Sen. Specter Responds to Health Care Scare in Stimulus Bill

By Susan Jones | February 10, 2009 | 10:29 AM EST

The American flag flies at the U.S. Capitol, Sunday, Feb. 8, 2009. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

( – “We are not going to let the federal government monitor what doctors do,” Sen. Arlen Specter told Fox News on Tuesday.
Specter, one of only three Republicans to support the Democrats’ stimulus/spending bill, was responding to growing concerns over health care provisions buried deep in the bill.
One provision creates a National Coordinator of Health Information Technology, “designed to monitor your treatments, to make sure your doctor is doing what the federal government deems appropriate and cost effective,” as a commentary on the Bloomberg news wire reported on Monday.
Specter told Fox News, “If Bloomberg has pointed out a potential problem…there will be clarification to avoid having the government meddle in what doctors do.”
The Senate bill provides $3 billion to computerize health records to cut costs and reduce medical errors. It also allots $1.1 billion to various federal health agencies “to evaluate the relative effectiveness of different health care services and treatment options,” the bill’s summary says.
Specter said the provision was intended to “provide technology” – to computerize the health records of all Americans. He said the government should not be in the business of making decisions on patients’ treatment.
Specter said one of the “big problems” with the stimulus bill is, “Why the rush? Why are we wedded to [a Feb. 13 deadline for passage]?” Specter noted that Congress never held hearings on the bill, and that has created problems.
“This is one of a number of provisions that has popped up that we have to revise and be very careful about,” he said.
Specter said he has protested the rush to judgment, but “the only answer we get is that the situation is so dire, such an emergency, we have to act.” Specter, asked if he would now put a stop to the bill or at least slow it down, indicated that he would not.
“Listen, this legislation is a bitter pill to swallow. But we are facing a situation where the current economic problems could turn into another depression like 1929.” He said he would not change his “yes” vote.
“We will get this provision clarified. I’ve made a commitment, and I’m not going to go back on my word and on a commitment. But when we find problems of this potential, we can cure them without upsetting the whole apple cart.”

Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) told Fox News that the stimulus bill is about jobs. “If – that’s a big if – if there’s language in there that says the government’s going to make my health care decisions, we’ll get it out. I don’t believe that,” he said.
“I think that the consumer is pretty well protected. I think what this is meant to do is move us into the 21st Century for health care records,” Tester continued.
“If it’s in there, it’s a bad idea. But the fact is if that can be fixed, it will be fixed, if it’s in there, it will be changed and made better and made workable – and then, the bottom line is, to put people back to work.”
Tester and Specter spoke to Fox News on Tuesday morning, just a few hours before the Senate was scheduled to vote on the massive spending bill, presumably passing it and sending it to a House-Senate conference committee.
The Bloomberg commentary by Betsy McCaughey reported that the controversial health care provisions “reflect the handiwork of Tom Daschle,” who was supposed to be President Obama’s secretary of health and human services until tax problems derailed his nomination.