Health Care's #1 Enemy

June 29, 2009 2:04 pm ET — Melinda Warner

Betsy McCaughey is at it again - spreading misinformation about health care reform and helping to prevent millions of Americans from gaining access to basic health care services.

In addition to her freelance work as the assassin of health care reform, McCaughey has held positions at both the Manhattan Institute (which supported a fellow's book claiming that "black people are genetically and intellectually inferior to white people") and the Hudson Institute (which has also employed fellow health care foe Frank Luntz and receives its funding from multiple far right groups).

McCaughey's modus operandi is to read health care legislation and slander it to the public; what she doesn't do is present anything other than her own biased interpretation of the legislation.  Even the non-partisan says:

"...she gets some facts wrong, and often gives the incorrect impression that her view of what the bill could mean is what the bill actually says."

The majority of Americans are healthy and don't need constant access to medical information.  The key to staying healthy is to receive annual wellness checks - basic check-ins with a doctor to make sure that headache is just stress, that mole is just weird, or that lump is just a cyst.  Unfortunately, for a few Americans these checks don't happen and they find themselves in the throes of advanced, unchecked cancer or disease past the point of no return. 

These are the Americans - hard working, tax paying, law abiding - that Betsy McCaughey is hurting by her deceptive efforts to derail health care reform yet again.  In 1994, McCaughey wrote an article titled "No Exit" in The New Republic.  Her piece outlined what she thought would be included in the Clinton proposal for health care reform, and those opinions were the driving force behind the legislation's failure.

In 1995, Mickey Kaus of The New Republic (incidentally the same magazine that published McCaughey's initial "analysis" of the Clinton plan) wrote of McCaughey's 1994 effort:

"'If you walk into a doctor's office and ask for treatment for an illness, you must show proof that you are enrolled in one of the health plans offered by the government,' McCaughey wrote, describing Clinton's proposal. 'The doctor can be paid only by the plan, not by you.' In other words, in the Clinton scheme you'd be at the mercy of your insurance plan...

In her second article, McCaughey specifically reaffirmed that 'the bill prohibits doctors from accepting payments directly from you for the basic kinds of medical care' covered by insurance.

It turns out McCaughey misread the bill. It did ban [a doctor] from accepting both a payment from an insurance plan and extra payment from a patient...But if you paid [that doctor] entirely from your own funds, you could pay him to do anything you wanted. A clause on page 16 of the bill guaranteed this."

McCaughey's distribution of misinformation was also catalogued by James Fallows at The Atlantic:

"I was less impressed with her scholarly precision after I compared her article with the text of the Clinton bill. Her shocked claim that coverage would be available only for 'necessary' and 'appropriate' treatment suggested that she had not looked at any of today's insurance policies. In claiming that the bill would make it impossible to go outside the health plan or pay doctors on one's own, she had apparently skipped past practically the first provision of the bill (Sec. 1003), which said,

'Nothing in this Act shall be construed as prohibiting the following: (1) An individual from purchasing any health care services.'"

The Clinton health care plan isn't the only item McCaughey has targeted.  She recently set her sights and pen on President Obama's stimulus package.

In February 2009, analyzed McCaughey's position on the stimulus bill and her statements on Comparative Effectiveness Research and the National Coordinator of Health Information Technology."

"McCaughey says that the stimulus bill creates 'one new bureaucracy, the National Coordinator of Health Information Technology.' Not true. The office has been in existence for nearly five years. In fact, it was President Bush who created it by executive order in April 2004...The office is charged with setting standards for an interoperable health IT system and encouraging doctors and hospitals to switch to electronic record-keeping. The stimulus legislation calls for funding for this office, includes more detail on its duties, and makes it permanent in law.

McCaughey further claims that the national coordinator 'will monitor treatments to make sure your doctor is doing what the federal government deems appropriate and cost effective.' She highlights the word 'guide' from the stimulus legislation, writing: 'The goal is to reduce costs and 'guide' your doctor's decisions.' But that language in the new law is virtually identical to Bush's executive order in 2004."


"McCaughey insisted to us that a 'critical difference' between the office created in 2004 and this 'new enterprise' is that 'now the use of these technologies is mandatory.' But that's not true either. The bill doesn't legally require hospitals or doctors to adopt electronic medical records.

When pressed, McCaughey pointed to several phrases in the bill that repeat Obama's goal to have electronic records for 'each person' in the U.S. But setting a goal is not the same thing as creating a legal requirement. And anyway, the Bush administration's stated goal was identical: 'Within ten years, every American must have a personal electronic medical record,' Bush said in April 2004, in first announcing his goal."

...So she's either not reading the entire bill, or reading the text and willfully omitting every clause that doesn't suit her overarching argument.

And with a June 19th op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, McCaughey has yet again gone after radical efforts to reform the health care delivery system in the United States.  Like her previous work, the op-ed is littered with "citations" directing the reader to specific sections in the legislation (see above, however, for how thoroughly McCaughey reads those sections).

The Wonk Room summarizes the piece with

...McCaughey is trying to conflate the Democrats' efforts to increase system efficiency with cuts in needed medical services. Simplifying medical forms or doing a better job managing chronic diseases (thus negating the need for more expansive treatments down the road), however, is not the same as denying treatment for a heart attack.

This recent "analysis" of the (incomplete) Kennedy health care bill shows the same faulty interpretation and presentation as McCaughey's writing in the 1990s.

Betsy McCaughey is knowingly misleading the public by trying to present her conservative fear-mongering as the gospel of truth on how legislation will affect Americans in their daily lives.  Just like so many other conservative sources who have no truth to back up their arguments, McCaughey is muddying the waters of the health care debate and wasting Americans' time.