Decoding the Ideology Behind A Health Care Study

July 28, 2008

Caveat lector.

Healthcare IT News reports (via the California HealthCare Foundation’s iHealthBeat) on a think-tank study that slams the Federal government’s health IT initiatives. That’s odd. Washington’s health IT projects  seem to me to be among their better accomplishments of the last eight years. (Not perfect by a long shot, and too “consumer health” driven, but on the right track.)

We always need to read between the lines. In this cases, phrases like this one from the study’s presenters caught my attention: “… the federal government is woefully incapable of changing or eliminating outdated rules and regulations. So we will be stuck for all time with whatever they come up with today.”

That seemed like pretty harsh language, not to mention a rigid perspective, for a “research study.”  (As opposed to say, a blog post.)  After all, while we’re not shy around here about noting the limits of government capability (and have the nasty comments to prove it), the Internet wouldn’t exist if not for government funding. And we pride ourselves on not injecting political biases into our own research.

So I did a little Googling on the think tank in question, the “Heartland Institute,” and here’s what I found:

Their self-stated mission is to “discover, develop, and promote free-market solutions to social and economic problems.” They believe that “activists use junk science to stampede the public into fearing chemicals in the air, food, and water, and the possible consequences of poorly understood phenomena such as climate change.” They say our environment is so much better now that “air pollution is no longer a significant threat to public health.”

You heard me right.  Childhood asthma’s up 75%, and the Schwarzenegger Administration’s Air Resources Board reports that “over 90 percent of Californians breathe unhealthy levels of one or more air pollutants during some part of the year.”  But for these guys it’s “What Me Worry?”

SourceWatch states that Heartland is closely tied to the tobacco industry, received funding from ExxonMobil, and took in more than $2 million in revenue than it spent in 2005. It has also received funding from a number of far-right foundations, says SourceWatch.

That’s the baggage that the Heartland Institute brings to its study.  But if government’s so hapless when it comes to technology, why do primary care doctors in North America lag behind their counterparts in Europe – you know, the ones who labor under socialist oppression – when it comes to the use of health IT?

The health economy is complex in this country, and it rarely lends itself to black-and-white solutions based on ideology and self-interest. As I was saying, caveat lector – which means let the reader beware.1

(1That is, if I remember my Latin correctly, which is hardly a sure thing.)


One Response to “Decoding the Ideology Behind A Health Care Study”

  1. PolicyWatchdog Says:

    You say The Heartland Institute took in $2 million more than it spent in 2005. You conveniently ignore the fact that it spent $1.65 million more than it took in the following year. Why this reliance on cherry-picked information and ancient history?

    The Heartland Institute‘s “baggage,” as you call it, weighs a lot more heavily on its critics than it does on the organization’s work. Caveat lector indeed.

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