Health of the State

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The computerization of personal healthcare records is one of the showpieces of the new stimulus bill. President Obama promised, “We will make the immediate investments necessary to ensure that within five years all of America’s medical records are computerized.” Congress ponied up $19 billion to subsidize the digitization of patient files and creation of electronic healthcare tracking systems. The ultimate goal is “the utilization of a certified electronic health record for each person in the United States by 2014.”

Shoved into a 1,400-page bill passed in a panic, the plan went largely undebated. But the implications are horrifying. Doctors will be coerced into a massive federal healthcare scheme, and government will serve as the leaky repository of patients’ most intimate information. Much as the Patriot Act pried, this measure intrudes on a far more personal level. No patient left behind — or alone.

The president promises that computerizing doctors’ records will “cut red tape, prevent medical mistakes, and help save billions each year.” But in fact, the federal mandate is likely to destroy the progress being made with voluntary efforts to computerize records in a way that assures confidentiality and individual control of health data.

At this point, fewer than 20 percent of the nation’s physicians have gone full-speed on computerization. Obama’s plan offers between $44,000 and $64,000 to doctors who computerize patient records and up to $11 million per hospital. “On the stick side of the equation,” the Wall Street Journal reported, “the measure includes Medicare payment penalties for physicians and hospitals that are not using electronic health records by 2014.” If records are digitized on the federal dime, it will be far easier for politicians to claim the resulting information.

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James Bovard [send him mail] is the author of the just-released Attention Deficit Democracy, The Bush Betrayal, and Terrorism & Tyranny: Trampling Freedom, Justice, and Peace to Rid the World of Evil. He serves as a policy advisor for The Future of Freedom Foundation. Visit his website.

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