Getting ugly? It's ugly already.

I've been telling people that the partisan debate on health reform was going to get ugly. I said so during a panel discussion a couple of months back and got labeled a cynic by several audience members. Still, I was caught off guard this week by nasty politicking over an obscure provision in the economic stimulus bill.

If you hadn't heard about comparative effectiveness research or the federal office that coordinates health information-technology implementation before, chances are you have by now. Calling them socialism is all the rage.

There's a something to be learned from this about health care and politics. I think Robert Laszweski, the insightful author of The Health Care Blog, put it best in his post: "The lesson here is that in health care nothing is easy, simple, or widely agreed to."

Hey, when's the last time you can remember Rush Limbaugh weighing in on the vagaries of health policy?

(via Media Matters)

This has been burning up the internet for days but, basically, a lot of health wonks think it'd be a good idea for the government to set aside money to finance research into what drugs, medical devices, surgeries, etc., work the best. That's the premise behind the $1.1 billion for this research congressional Democrats wrote into the stimulus bill with President Obama's blessing. For health IT, it's all about efficiency and fewer medical errors; the bill has $20 billion for that. (I will leave the questions of whether these things are "stimulative" to other, better people.)

To some conservatives, the establishment of a federal role in conducting this research is a step in the direction of the government eventually dictating what medical treatments we're allowed to get. House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) describes it like this on his official blog: "A provision tucked in the bill will further increase government involvement in health care by putting bureaucrats - not doctors - in charge of health care choices for families and seniors."

It's reasonable to guess that a lot of liberals would, in fact, like to establish a government entity that decides what treatments get covered. But the stimulus bill doesn't do that. Nonetheless, conservatives are skipping the "slippery slope" part of the argument and the pharmaceutical and medical devices industries, along with some physician societies and patient groups, are helping intensify the protest.

First, let me direct to The Wall Street Journal's coverage (which I really wish I'd written). Second, rather than try to summarize the two sides, I'll provide some links and you can see for yourself. I couldn't really do it justice anyway.

Here's commentary from the right wing: Betsy McCaughey, Limbaugh, Michael Cannon, and a clip from Fox News:

(via Media Matters)   

Liberals, naturally, are apoplectic: Ezra Klein, Igor Volsky, and Jonathan Cohn

Finally, here's commentary from two smart people who aren't explicitly aligned with the right or left: The Atlantic's James Fallows and The Washington Post's Steven Pearlstein.

Jeffrey Young is a staff writer at The Hill.

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Jeffrey Young

Jeffrey Young is a staff writer at The Hill, the newspaper for and about Congress, where he covers health care, lobbying, politics, and the intersection thereof for the "Business & Lobbying" section. He's been covering health policy in Washington for a decade and still hasn't heard that one good idea that will fix everything. Email Jeffrey at

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