A Washington Post editorial today criticizes President Obama for seeking a stimulus package that is (in the President's own words) "not merely a prescription for short-term spending" but a "strategy for long-term economic growth in areas like renewable energy and health care and education." This, the Post says, is "precisely the problem" and "even potentially meritorious items, such as ... billions more to computerize medical records, do not belong in legislation whose reason for being is to give U.S. economic growth a 'jolt.'"
The Post was writing about an opinion piece by President Obama, in which he takes on "misguided critics" of his plan who say that "we can ignore fundamental challenges such as energy independence and the high cost of health care and still expect our economy and our country to thrive." Instead, the President says, "Now is the time to protect health insurance for the more than 8 million Americans at risk of losing their coverage and to computerize the health-care records of every American within five years, saving billions of dollars and countless lives in the process."
As I write this, a group of U.S. Senators is working to strike from the stimulus bill funding for a variety of programs that, in their view, will not provide immediate help to the economy.
Let's think about this. Health care costs are, in the words of the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), the "greatest fiscal challenge" facing the United States.
Spending money on health IT will likely produce jobs in the short-term (someone has to design, sell, install, update, maintain the systems, and provide support to practices on implementation and use). But the benefits of spending money on health IT can't just be measured by the numbers of jobs produced. Health IT has the potential to lower health care expenses by billions of dollars, reduce medical errors, and improve quality (CBO).
Other programs in the stimulus bill, like funding for comparative effectiveness research and training more primary care physicians, can bring enormous benefit to the economy by creating the infrastructure needed to improve health care outcomes and reduce the costs of care. Yet they are also vulnerable to being struck.
On this issue, the president has it right, and his critics, wrong. In a letter sent this afternoon to all U.S. Senators, ACP urged that programs to fund health IT, comparative effectiveness research, and primary care be kept in the bill.
Today's question: If you had $800 billion to spend, would you spend it: (1) only on programs that may create jobs in the short-term, but may produce little long-term economic gain for the economy or (2) programs that can create jobs now and help the economy over the longer haul by lowering health care costs?