Friday, June 19, 2009

National Politics, The American Medical Association, Healthcare and IT Funding

In Wednesday's post, I expressed the belief that national politics could have an impact upon the architecture of the upcoming IT-based EHR system. These politics cannot be ignored, I opined, when it comes to the distribution of funds under the HITECH Act (the health IT component of the American Recovery & Reinvestment Act). This rationale is rooted in history.

Twenty years ago this week, I.F. Stone died at the age of eighty-one. He was the premier investigative reporter of the twentieth century, a self-described radical journalist.

The late ABC news anchor, Peter Jennings, paid tribute to I.F. Stone on his evening newscast the day after his death, June 18, 1989.

People may not remember that Meet the Press was originally a radio program before it became a TV program. And when Meet the Press started in the mid-’40s, I.F. Stone was one of the regular panelists on the radio program. He was also one of the regular panelists on the TV program.

He was a very well-known journalist, the sort of person you would expect to see on one of today’s Sunday chat shows.

In December 1949, on Meet the Press, the person he was interviewing was a guy called Dr. Morris Fishbein. Now, in the ’40s, Morris Fishbein was the most famous doctor in America. He was the editor of The Journal of the American Medical Association (an article from which I linked to in my May 13 post), and he was the person that the medical and pharmaceutical industries put up to oppose socialized medicine or a national health insurance. He was the person who coined the phrase “socialized medicine” as a means of discrediting national health insurance.

Fishbein had described the proposals for national health insurance as a step on the road to communism. And so, Stone said to him, “Dr. Fishbein, given that President Truman has already spoken out in favor of national health insurance, do you think that that makes him a dangerous communist or just a deluded fellow traveler?”

I.F. Stone continued by saying that the aircraft industry, at the beginning of the Second World War, was producing about 500 planes a year. And President Roosevelt said that in order to defeat Hitler, they need to produce 500 planes a day. And basically, Stone pointed out that the aircraft industry had this huge backlog. It didn’t suit them to expand production. They wanted to keep things the way they were. They had a monopoly, just like pharmaceutical companies might have today. So Truman knew that some things are too important to be left to private enterprise, and he felt that healthcare was one of them.

But what’s interesting about this argument that Stone was having with Fishbein is two things: first, that that was the last time I.F. Stone was ever on Meet the Press, and secondly, that he wasn’t again allowed to be on national television for eighteen years.

Footnote: Earlier this week, the American Medical Association (AMA) announced that it was "letting Congress know" that it would resist a public plan for health insurance coverage.

Politically, the revelation could be a significant blow to progressive health care reform advocates, who contend that a public option is the best way to reduce costs and increase insurance coverage. The AMA has the institutional resources and the prestige to impact debates in the halls of Congress.