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Brief Thought: There's Always a Winner, But Not Always a Conspiracy

June 19, 2009
by Marc D. Paradis
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The Washing Post recently ran an article titled "The Machinery Behind Health-Care Reform: How an Industry Lobby Scored a Swift, Unexpected Victory by Channeling Billions to Electronic Records". The industry lobby mentioned in the sub-title is HIMSS ( Health Information and Managements Systems Society) and the article strongly implied some kind of impropriety on the part of HIMSS, the Obama administration and/or certain thought-leaders in the EHR movement. While I could write a long post poking holes in the Washington Post article, I want to make a simpler, more basic point. Nearly every industry has at least one lobby representing it in Washington. Doesn't matter whether the industry is for profit or not-for-profit. Industry is also a broad term here - it includes traditional manufacturing, as well as services, sales, academia, government, etc. Therefore, for ANY bill which has either beneficial or harmful financial or regulatory implications there will be at least one lobby which benefits or which is harmed. Even if a divinely pure bill were to be received deus ex machina, there would still be industry winners and/or losers. Now, remember that the entire reason for the existence of a lobby is to effect policy change in favor of a lobby's interests. Therefore, even for the divinely pure bill, any post-hoc review looking for evidence of conspiracy and/or impropriety, will find circumstantial support for that in the activities of the lobby. Time will tell whether government-incentivized EHRs are a good or a bad thing and time will tell whether there was any impropriety between HIMSS and the Obama Administration. I'm just tired of yellow journalism. The appropriate and effective role of journalism in a societal system of checks-and-balances is as watchdog, whistleblower and disseminator, not carnival barker. Those are my thoughts, what are yours?

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Comments

Marc,
Thanks for writing this post. I see the connection between your observation and Anthony's - the Washington Post article was focused on lobbying process, not the underlying issue. That does make the article unsatisfying for readers looking for the latter.

I agree with your observation that there's not always a conspiracy.

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Hanlon's razor is an eponymous adage which reads:

Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity.

- from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hanlon%27s_razor

Goethe: "And I have again observed, my dear friend, in this trifling affair, that misunderstandings and neglect occasion more mischief in the world than even malice and wickedness. At all events, the two latter are of less frequent occurrence."

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I would take the "Never attribute to malice ... ignorance" quote and rethink it.

Never take a 20 thousand foot observation and try to use it exclusively to explain a problem from a 40 thousand foot perspective, or the runway perspective.

Neither article nor blog posts can be long enough to be any more exhaustive.

Fair enough Anthony,

My own knee-jerk reflex may be a bit exaggerated due to the biases of certain journalists local to my area and to the general polarization of news, especially television and radio news, over the last 15 - 20 years. I agree that no one is directly claiming impropriety, but in the court of public opinion, guilt by early association and innuendo tends to trump exoneration by verifiable and fair analysis.

I couldn't agree more Joe,

Thanks for the quotes and the links.

Hi Marc.

I see the article a little differently that you did. I do not think it made the case that HIMSS was involved in any wrongdoing. I do think it laid bare the relationship between that lobby and the resultant bill. No one I know is claiming that HIMSS did anything wrong, just that something about the lobbying process is vaguely wrong and slightly unsettling. We want to believe that our government acts, and our laws are written, in the best interests of the people. But it's clear that sometimes such is not the case. Getting legislation written is about lobbying, which is about both money (campaign contribution) and votes (unions "delivering their members") etc.

So I have to respectfully disagree with your point that the article was unfair.

Marc D. Paradis MS

Marc D. Paradis, MS, is Director of Strategic Data Services in Applied Informatics and a Manager...