By Cynthia L. Webb washingtonpost.com Staff Writer
Friday, May 28, 2004; 9:59 AM
Forty million Americans uninsured? Runaway inflation in health insurance premiums and pharmaceuticals? A Medicare program with significant long-term financing problems?
No problem, President Bush says. A little technology can make the whole system work better.
The leader of the free world journeyed to Nashville, Tenn., yesterday to talk about how technology can help transform the way medical care is delivered in the United States. To be fair, Bush didn't claim technology alone would solve the bigger health care crisis. But in calling for most health care records to be digitized over the next decade, the president insisted that technology must be a key component of broader efforts to improve the health care system.
An excerpt from Bush's speech at Vanderbilt University: "Another way to save money is to introduce information technology into the health care world. One of the amazing discrepancies in American society today is, we're literally changing how medicine is delivered in incredibly positive ways. And yet, docs are still spending a lot of time writing things on paper, and sometimes it's hard to read their handwriting and therefore, sometimes it's difficult to have the spread of accurate information so that doctors can make good decisions. The idea of making sure we use information technology starts with setting this goal: within 10 years, we want most Americans to have electronic health care records."
The president tried to downplay privacy concerns over digitizing medical records, saying: "[A]s you hear the idea of moving your information across the Internet, you've just got to know it's got to be with your permission. These are your records, it's your health, and you can decide whether or not people can use your records. This is important for people to understand that, that those of us in government who talk about spreading information also, first and foremost, keep your privacy in mind."
Transcript of Bush's Nashville Speech Outline of Bush's Plan: "Transforming Health Care for All Americans"
As part of his focus on medical information technology, the president appointed a new Health and Human Services Dept. official dedicated to bringing about the digitization of medicine. The new National Health Information Technology Coordinator who is instructed to "develop, maintain, and direct the implementation of a strategic plan to guide the nationwide implementation of interoperable health information technology in both the public and private health care sectors that will reduce medical errors, improve quality, and produce greater value for health care expenditures. The National Coordinator shall report to the Secretary regarding progress on the development and implementation of the strategic plan within 90 days after the National Coordinator begins operations and periodically thereafter."
Text of Presidential Order
Prescribe and Conquer
This is an election year, after all, and it was hard for the locale of Bush's speech to go unnoticed. The Associated Press noted that Bush delivered his remarks "in a Southern state where polls show him slightly ahead of his Democratic rival. Bush won Tennessee's 11 electoral votes in 2000, defeating Al Gore in his home state by nearly four percentage points. But the Democrat handily defeated Bush in the Nashville area, and Thursday's trip marked the second time this month that a member of Bush's team had visited the city. ... Bush split his time between raising $1.7 million for the Republican Party and touring the new Vanderbilt Children's Hospital, where he watched a doctor retrieve electronic medical records on a large, split-screen monitor."
The Associated Press via The Miami Herald: Bush Touts Health Databases (Registration required)
The Washington Post offered this analysis on why Bush is paying is so much attention to technology and health care: "The topic might seem incongruous on a day when the Democratic candidate, Sen. John F. Kerry (Mass.), gave a major address on national security, and with all the crises besetting the administration. But Bush's 'conversation on health care information technology' was part of a coordinated effort between the White House and the Bush-Cheney campaign to appeal to suburban swing voters who are technologically savvy. Bush's senior adviser, Karl Rove, targeted 'wired workers' in the administration's first year as one of the groups among whom the president would try to improve his performance in 2004."
And, according to the Post, the "focus on medical technology, which Bush included in his January State of the Union address, is also part of an effort by Bush's aides to expand his plans for health care beyond Medicare and reach voters in their thirties and forties. Last month, the White House put out a policy book titled 'A New Generation of American Innovation' that called for promoting hydrogen fuel technology ... Three weeks later, Bush-Cheney '04 announced a coalition called 'Innovators for Bush,' which was launched with a video of testimonials from leading executives in technology, telecommunications and biotechnology."
The Washington Post: Bush Touts Plan For Electronic Medicine (Registration required)
In the interest of fair time, the AP noted what Kerry's campaign had to say about the Bush trip: "The rival campaign of Democrat John Kerry said Bush is focusing on small issues at the expense of larger problems, such as skyrocketing health care costs and millions of people without health insurance." Reuters said in its coverage that Kerry "has made health care reform a major feature of his domestic agenda. The Massachusetts senator has pledged to roll back Bush's tax cuts for families making over $200,000 a year and to plow part of the money into expanding health care coverage. He has repeatedly attacked Bush for surging health care costs, citing figures suggesting they have risen four times as fast as wages under Bush's watch.
Reuters via Wired: Bush Says He Has Cure For Illegible Prescriptions