Critics Says Stimulus Gives Government Too Much Say in Health Care

Critics are raising flags about a provision in the economic recovery package that they say would give the federal government too much control over health care.

The sticking point is a section that would direct billions of dollars toward digitizing medical records and would authorize a "National Coordinator for Health Information Technology" to provide information to "help guide medical decisions at the time and place of care."

Betsy McCaughey, the former lieutenant governor of New York who wrote a critical column on the measure this week, said that would allow the federal government to hand information to doctors and guide their decisions at a patient's bedside.

"The language of the bill is very troubling," McCaughey told FOX News.

"This is going to be a two-way system. Your medical treatment will be stored in the database, but the government will also be communicating with your doctor at the time and place of care," she said.

McCaughey, an adjunct fellow at the Hudson Institute, said a federal electronic database of medical records could be a "handy thing," but she complained that the language in the bill goes way beyond that.

Lawmakers, though, are defending the program.

"What this bill is doing is getting us out of the dark ages when we deal with medical records to provide for a more efficient system," Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., told FOX News.

He said the provisions would help improve patient care and reduce medical errors. "There is nothing in this legislation that interferes with a doctor making the decision with the patient about what is appropriate care."

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's office issued a statement disputing the criticism of the language, and the Senate Committee on Finance released a statement asserting that the IT director would "absolutely not" have influence about the decisions doctors and patients make about tests and treatment.

The statement said the federal government would not have access to electronic medical records, but merely set "minimum standards" for the technology systems doctors use to store them. It said the provision was just codifying an office that was created by President Bush several years ago.

The bill would require health providers to be "meaningful users" of health IT by 2015.

McCaughey said the language in the provision is too vague and would empower the secretary of health and human services to impose harsh penalties.

The Senate passed an $838 billion version of the economic recovery bill Tuesday; House and Senate lawmakers now are negotiating a compromise bill that can be signed by President Obama.