Does good Betsy McCaughey exist?

Does good Betsy McCaughey exist?

Summary: Betsy McCaughey is what she has always been, an industry lobbyist. To call her anything else, to refer to her as "Dr. McCaughey," is to endorse a deception.


Twice now, a woman named Betsy McCaughey (right, from Wikipedia) has led rhetorical charges to kill health reform.

In 1994 she succeeded, thanks to an article called "No Exit" published in The New Republic, then edited by Andrew Sullivan, to which she had been assigned by publisher Martin Peretz, an opponent of the Clinton plan.

Sullivan and his critics still debate whether that article had enough factual basis to merit publication.

The current effort is on life support, in part, thanks to her calling end-of-life counseling "death panels," a lie whose credibility allowed other falsehoods to dominate the recent debate.

Betsy Peterken McCaughey Ross's Wikipedia entry lists her profession as a "constitutional scholar" and conservative commentator. She is the daughter of a janitor, who won scholarships to boarding schools and Vasser.

When McCaughey uses the title "Dr.," it's based on her Ph.D from Columbia. Her thesis was on an early President of Columbia, William Samuel Johnson.

The name McCaughey uses publicly is that of her first husband, investment banker Thomas McCaughey, whom she divorced in 1994. Her second husband was billionaire investor Wilber Ross, whom she divorced in 1998.

Her stature in the current debate is based largely on her heading a group called the Committee to Reduce Infection Deaths. Before founding RID, she was Lt. Governor of New York under George Pataki. Before that she described herself as a housewife.

She is, in fact, less of a medical expert than I am, according to a profile on The Health Care Blog published last week by Michael Millenson of Health Quality Advisors LLC.

"It's a good cause -- at least on paper," Millenson writes of RID. But is it?

RID's main contribution to the debate on infection control was a March 2008 press release condemning a JAMA article on how MRSA might not be controlled by tests using skin or nasal swabs.

What RID did not mention in the release was that its founder, McCaughey, was at that time on the board of Cantel Medical, whose Crosstex subsidiary makes the test kits.

Critics called her work for Cantel a "pay for play" scandal, and in fact she resigned from its board last month.

As noted here in February, the truth about Betsy McCaughey may be found in her own words, near the bottom of her now-famous Bloomberg piece from February that made the false claim comparative effectiveness research will deny people needed care.

The health-care industry is the largest employer in the U.S. It produces almost 17 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product. Yet the bill treats health care the way European governments do: as a cost problem instead of a growth industry.

Betsy McCaughey is what she has always been, an industry lobbyist. To call her anything else, to refer to her as "Dr. McCaughey," is to endorse a deception.

The question is now whether industry lobbyists like McCaughey, and rhetoric that caused such a violent reaction on the part of innocent people, are going to win the day.

Topics: IT Employment, CXO, Health

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  • all very interesting, but...

    Is ZDnet now a health-oriented web site? Should we start looking forward to more political articles?
    • Your clicks don't lie

      I do prefer writing about health technology, and do, but click rates don't lie. When I have written about policy -- which is the key question right now -- over the last several weeks I have gotten five times the traffic here than when I have written about technology.

      So it would seem policy is of greater interest right now than technology.

      I hope that changes soon.
      • Test Kits = Technology

        Bit of a stretch mind you, and I'm not sure that said kits utilize chips, PC or mainframe technology in their processing.

        What is important is that:

        1. Dr McCaughey is not a medical doctor and the use of the term "doctor" in relation to any health care issue is a deliberate deception on her part.

        2. The RID condemnation of the JAMA report is pure self-interest. And Ms McCaughey apparently did not disclose her conflicts of interest.

        3. The JAMA report reflects my own observations within the healthcare environment. Testing alone is not going to solve the problem, just as firewalls alone do not stop malware. The most efficient way to reduce MRSA infections is to have an integrated system that includes timely identification measures (testing & record flags of prior infections), a robust infection prevention program (handwashing, disinfection, cleaning, barriers, etc., and an effective treatment regimen (other antibiotics, anti-biotic combinations, longer treatment).

        And the best preventitive measure for all infection control in a hospital still is proper handwashing.

        And by the way, I am NOT a medical doctor, I'm just surrounded by them.
      • Our clicks are self serving...

        Traffic hasn't gone up because you write about policy instead of health technology. It goes up because most of us fall for your tantalizing lead which is curiously out of context for the publication.

        That you choose to vent your thinly veiled political views in a tech venue is your business. If it costs your bosses money it will soon be THEIR business.

        Don't be so arrogant as to assume that because we slow down to watch a tragedy by the roadside that we somehow take delight in it. You're mistaking the human condition for approval. That's a Big Fail.

        Stick to technology if you please.
    • Similar issue

      It does appear that not only on the health care issue but on climate issues Tech Republic is neither being "tech" or "Republic", i.e. representing the many views on the subjects. Because these subjects are so multifacited and generally not technical, but political, in nature, perhaps Tech Republic would be well advised to avoid the pro or con propaganda and focus on specific technical solutions to existing or non-existing problems in the world.
      • Suicide is painless

        When you're creating a new media, or a new medium, it is always best to follow the audience, and not try to define for readers what they should read, or users what they should do.

        This medium is not like print. The rules are going to be different. And we should follow the rules where the market leads us...
        • Suicide is what you'll get... so enjoy it.

          Gee, we thought Tech Republic had a well established business plan and a mission to speak about technology. It's disconcerting to hear you say we're wrong about that. That YOU are following US. That you don't have any definition and are willing to go somewhere other than here.

          Here is where we come because we thought we knew what you stood for. We do not come here to share your misadventures or to participate in your personal joy ride.

          I hope management reads these comments and concludes that your ego is NOT bigger than their publication. The medium may not be print but we're HERE... not fans of your personal blog. It's about US... get it. Not about you, your political screeds or your feelings about a hack like the ex Mrs. Wilbur Ross.
  • A Ph.D. is a doctorate

    [i]"When McCaughey uses the title ?Dr.,? it?s based on her Ph.D from Columbia. ... to refer to her as ?Dr. McCaughey,? is to endorse a deception."[/i]

    Sorry, Dana, but you're dead wrong on that one. A Ph.D. is a doctorate. She has as much right to use the title "Dr." as anyone with an MD. In fact, to NOT use the title is deception. An academic doctorate is a VERY demanding regimen. You don't just learn information, you learn analytical techniques. And whether you like her politics or not, the analytical techniques do transfer from one field to another.
    • Puh-leeze

      When someone in a medical debate calls themselves a Doctor and then it turns out it's a doctorate in constitutional law, a Ph.D, you think that's fine? That's not fine. That's deception.
      • A PhD is a doctor, period. Though hers [i]is[/i] in history.

        It's deceptive if her PhD is billed as an MD, which is the fault of the people who report on her, not of McCaughey herself, who is absolutely entitled to be called "doctor" at any time.

        Academic degrees are very hard to earn, harder than MDs, and she deserves the recognition, even if she is a self-publicizing right-wing phoney. Don't get me wrong; I have no love of left-wing phoneys. They're just not the ones getting all the press these days.
        • a doctor is a doctor is a doctor

          Although i almost never post a comment - i have
          got to put my 2cents in this time. I agree with Rick_R and DelbertPGH, a doctorate is a Doctor,
          and has every right to call herself a doctor at
          any and all occasion .
      • Puh-leeze yourself

        It's not <i>deception</i>, it's <i>accurate</i>.
        She is fully entitled to be addressed as "Dr.
        McCaughey", and as far as I know has never
        billed herself as an M.D. Your inference does
        not prove her implication, it proves only that
        you're biased.
        Where she got her money is not germane, it's
        merely your weak attempt at character
        assassination -- but that pretty much describes
        the entirety of your blog entry anyway.
        As for the term "death panels", you liberals are
        just sore that your opponents have created an
        emotionally-charged label that frames the debate
        to your disadvantage. There can be no doubt
        that in a world of limited medical resources and
        unlimited "need" for those resources,
        <i>someone</i> will have to decide how those
        resources are allocated (i.e. rationed). Are we
        taxpayers really going to be expected to cover a
        hip replacement for a 95-year-old person with
        On what basis do you claim that it is "false"
        that comparative effectiveness research will
        deny people needed care? <i>Only my doctor</i>
        is qualified to judge what form of treatment
        will be effective for <u>me</u> -- not some
        national panel of Government bureaucrats.
        Medical resources ("health care" to use your
        term) are <i>already</i> rationed, but it's on
        the basis of ability-to-pay and insurance
        coverage (usually linked to employment). To
        change this to a system that covers everyone
        regardless of employment, and is rationed by
        bureaucrats, is opposed by many of us who
        actually <b>work</b> for a living. My friend
        from high school couldn't be bothered to pay
        attention and get an education, so now he's
        unemployed and can't afford health insurance.
        Why is that <i>my</i> problem?
        To be forced to participate in an insurance pool
        that is under a Government mandate to accept
        everyone, is opposed by many of us who take good
        care of our health. While I'm no paragon of
        virtue, I neither smoke nor drink, and I
        exercise and maintain a healthy weight. My
        neighbor apparently never met a donut she didn't
        like, so now she weighs 300 pounds and has
        diabetes. Why should I be forced to pay higher
        insurance rates to subsidize her health care?
        From where I stand, the "good Betsy McCaughey"
        is clearly visible, but I can't see any good
        Dana Blankenhorn. I hope that the "violent
        reaction" that you so decry continues to grow
        stronger, so that the liberal lunatics who were
        handed control of the Government catch a clue,
        and let this so-called "reform" wither on the
        • At least you're honest

          You like paying twice as much as other people for half the service. You oppose any form of meaningful reform. I appreciate that honesty. I wish others shared it.

          I especially wish Betsy McCaughey, who has built a career claiming to be a medical expert (but isn't), shared your honesty.
          • I am honest, yes.

            You're mistaken when you say that I "pay twice
            as much as other people for half the service."
            I have excellent health insurance, so my two
            visits to the doctor in the last ten years cost
            me a total of $50, as did my single visit to the
            ER. That's $100 out-of-pocket for me, and when
            I presented at the ER with a kidney stone I
            received all the service I needed.
            I do oppose any so-called "reform" that you
            would consider to be "meaningful", because such
            change cannot possibly benefit me. My ox stands
            to be gored, and I don't welcome it.
            Still, I'm happy to see that you've stopped
            calling Dr. McCaughey a gold-digger and saying
            that her Ph.D. does not entitle her to be called
            "Doctor", and retreated to a new position --
            alleging that she claimed to be a medical
            expert, when it's your opinion that she isn't.
          • You pay in other ways

            You insist your ox is not being gored, but do you know that, in effect, your employer is paying a 20% tax on your salary that competitors in other countries don't pay? Or that, if you need an ambulance or an emergency room visit it will take longer, risking your life, because uninsured patients are using that facility for routine care -- or because they didn't get it?

            You are also fortunate in that your only health emergency was a kidney stone. Try getting something expensive like cancer. See how good your insurance is then.

            We, as a nation, spend nearly 17% of GDP on health care and deny it to about 50 millino of our people. You may not see a problem with that. Most Americans do.
          • You make some good points...

            Of course my employer pays an effective tax on
            my salary, in order to purchase health insurance
            on my behalf. Are you suggesting that the
            overall tax rate on US corporations, when this
            insurance-coverage contribution is added, is
            higher than the rate on comparable European
            corporations? I honestly don't know the answer
            to that question.
            Do you suggest that this should matter to me
            because, if this 20% effective-tax burden were
            removed, my employer would pay the money to me
            instead? I surely <i>do</i> know the answer to
            <i>that</i> question!
            The problem is Government meddling. By
            mandating that hospitals treat the indigent, the
            Government claims the mantle of compassion while
            instituting a back-door socialism.
            I reject the fundamental assumption of socialism
            -- that someone else's <i>need</i> for the
            fruits of my labor is a greater claim on them
            than my having <i>earned</i> them.
          • Reject all you want

            [i]I reject the fundamental assumption of socialism
            -- that someone else's need for the
            fruits of my labor is a greater claim on them
            than my having earned them.[/i]

            We're gonna take it anyway. Whether you like it or not.

            The docile anti-"business as usual" cat is out of the bag. There's no turning back.

            Universal health care for all legal citizens!
            Wintel BSOD
          • There's this thing called "mutualizing"...

            ...which, although it is the basis of communism and socialism, is NOT the same. Actually, it is the basis for human society in general.

            You pay for a health care insurance. Why do you? Because this insurance, whether you get ill or not, will cover the price for any treatment you'd need, whether you need it or not.

            No imagine that, in the best case, this insurance works pro bono: all the money you give them is used to build hospitals, fund medical research and education... But you're the only subscriber for this insurance.

            For the price you pay monthly, you get an old voodoo priest with yellow teeth, for free - instead of the $50 seeing him would have cost you.

            Now, imagine that there are 50 million subscribers to your insurance plan: you still don't pay, but you get hospitals with medical schools and reasonably educated doctors, with a medical knowledge from around the 1980's - it's no good for very bad cases, but at least you may treat mild to severe illnesses with rather high recovery ratios (knowledge and infrastructures are one-time-only investments, with fixed rates upkeep: the more people using it, the cheaper per user it is)

            So, last leg of you journey: 350 million subscribers. You get potentially 7 times more funds than the above. If we consider that merely doubling investments over the above takes us to twice the number of hospitals and medical knowledge reaching 2010 levels, we end up with more funds than it costs to make these investments. Now, upkeep is higher - more personnel, some more hospitals are required... But R&D, costly scanners etc. can service five thousand people as well as they can four times more.

            In short, having more subscribers to a health plan reduces the cost per subscriber to this health plan; but, the only way for this to work is for everybody to take part in it.

            You complain that you have a job, and that you work to get your money; also, that you don't want to pay for a bum's medical care.

            What you forget to take into account, is that eventhough you pay for your insurance, that kidney stone you had removed wasn't paid in full through what you paid your insurance: other people's money was used for it. Because, believe it or not, there are people that pay for an insurance, and that never get sick.

            Last, you forget one very simple thing: humans are weak creatures that usually can't survive without living in a society, in a group. The difference between a society and a pack of individuals is that, in a society, anybody is codependent on everybody else. Disrespect of this simple rule means that the group will be picked, one individual after the other, until it crumbles.

            If, by any chance, you try and object that money replaces the bond between individuals, because it is a material link instead of an intangible thing based on trust, explain this one away.

            In France, removing a kidney stone costs $70 for someone who isn't insured, nor covered by social security. In the US, the same thing with the same level of care will cost around $6000. Explain the discrepancy.

            In France, universal health coverage costs 11 % of its GDP. In the US, partial coverage costs more than 19%.

            So, through this very simple demonstration, I proved to you that paying for that bum next door's health coverage, you yourself would pay almost half what you pay now for yourself alone.

            Following the basic tenants of Capitalism: a good deal is when both parties get an advantage from said deal. Here, the bum gets free health coverage, while you pay less for the same. As long as a society doesn't have more than a third of its population unemployed thus without revenue, universal health coverage is a good deal. Economy class 101, chapter 2: economy of scale.
            Mitch 74
        • Some cognitive dissonance in that, saz

          You don't want to be forced into subsidizing health care for others, but you want to be in an insurance pool, so that if anything goes wrong with you, you don't get bankrupted. And, when it comes to you, there should be no caps or guidelines, because your doctor should be able to spend anything he wants on anything he dreams up that might have a chance (not necessarily a reasonable chance) of doing you some good. Your ideals are in contradiction.

          First of all, being in a pool means that everybody helps carry the risks of everybody else. Maybe you have a healthy-people-only pool, that keeps out everybody old, everybody fat, everybody who skis or rides a motorcycle, in short everyone who could raise the rates on the ideal low-risk players, such as you and your immediate family likely are. I doubt it; maybe you just wish for it. But, that kind of pool would also kick you out on the first renewal date following an expensive event, like your car insurance does. If medical insurance were like car insurance, you would be in the $100 per month club until your first claim, when you would fall into the $1800 a month club, or (if it were cancer or heart trouble) the $20,000 a month club.

          Medical insurance is not like real insurance; it runs as a payment transfer agent. If medical insurance were run like a real insurance business, with every risk priced proportionate to cost, nobody would buy it. I'll assume you don't want real insurance; you want coverage, like you get now.

          Liberal loonies seem to want, as I want, to see everybody with coverage. They seem to do so because they believe, as I also believe, that every citizen deserves to be treated when they are ill or suffering. You, I again assume, probably believe the same thing, at least with respect to yourself. (The hint was, you don't want government bureaucrats limiting your doctor's freedom to do you a benefit, no matter what it may cost the rest of your insurance pool.) I class myself as more conservative than liberal, but I believe this nation is already committed to a healthy life for all, and that we ought to formally guarantee that and deal with it in a rational way that leads to good economics and the best outcomes. We already deal with it in ways that are uneconomical and lead to mediocre outcomes, and that offends my penny pinching conservative spirit. I read your main concerns as being to keep it as good as possible for yourself and as cheap as possible for yourself. So long as you bring everybody else along for the ride, your goals seem to be consistent with mine.

          As for judging comparative effectiveness, your doctor is unlikely to be the best evaluator. He isn't an epidemiologist, a researcher, or a statistician. Your doctor depends on others to run the numbers, and that includes bureacrats in your insurance company, who will deny care that they deem expensive and hopeless. In the years I've been following the ever-worsening health care "crisis", I've heard editorialists complain how health care cost a fifteenth of our economy; and in a few years, a tenth; now, a sixth. We can soon spend 20% of everything we produce on ourselves. Is that a rational limit? More? Less? When you reach your limit, how do you apply constraints? Keep in mind that health care is effectively a tax on everything else we do, and everything else becomes more expensive to help pay for it. You hate taxes, don't you?

          There's an article in The Atlantic by David Goldhill which actually proposes an alternative; it's 11,000 words long, and excellent in its analysis. I don't know yet if I endorse his conclusion. I'll save you the time if you don't want to read it: he states that using insurance companies as transfer payment agents is expensive and drives all price and service incentives out of the medical industry, and that a system that restores consumer discretion to every service purchase would bring down costs and raise quality. He proposes to do this with health savings accounts, and catastrophic care insurance that only kicks in when bills reach $50,000. Once you got above a certain balance in your HSA, you could draw out money for any purpose at all, leading you to choose wisely and spend only when necessary. Since we currently spend $6500 per year per man, woman, and child on health care, most of it through employer insurance, we have a method and the money to fund the new system. Here's the link: T. R. Reid of the Washington Post has a book in the works, and though I don't think he has a solution in mind, he proves points about the cost and service efficiencies of other countries in this world.

          Character actors like Palin, Beck, and McCaughey make a ludicrous show of pretending that choosing good and effective care means sending grandma or Down's syndrome babies down the chute. (Maybe that's how Republicans would actually try to implement such a function... they don't believe in competent government, do they? Under a Bush regime, you'd find Dick Cheney subcontracting the administration to Halliburton, and hiring Blackwater as chute-pushers.) It simply doesn't work that way anywhere else in the world, and it wouldn't work that way here.
          • Contradictions, perhaps. Cognitive dissonance, no.

            You may argue that my positions are
            contradictory, but, unless I concur, there is no
            cognitive dissonance. I do not, and there is
            I think insurance is a good thing, because by
            pooling risk it reduces individual exposure. My
            complaints revolve around lack of
            responsibility, and coercion. I object to
            sharing an insurance pool with folks who don't
            take responsibility for their health -- be they
            the obese, the daredevils, or the smokers. I do
            believe that smokers at least are excluded from
            my pool, and if I had my way the obese would be
            excluded also. Skydivers, motorcyclists, skiers
            and the like ought to pay higher premiums, commensurate with their increased risk of injury
            -- and thereby take responsibility for their
            actions. When the Government forces everyone to
            purchase insurance, whether they want it or not,
            I object to the coercion.
            I think insurers ought to be entitled to full
            disclosure (including medical exams) prior to
            accepting new policyholders, but once a
            policyholder is accepted at a given rate, there
            should be no rate increases as a result of
            claims. See, I <i>do</i> admit a role for
            Of course I want full unlimited benefits for my
            own self. I know that's impossible, but one of
            the fruits of my decades of labor is that I now
            have excellent coverage, and I am loath to see
            my own benefits degraded so that the exact same
            benefits can be handed <i>gratis</i> to someone
            who can't be bothered to hold a job.
            Medical insurance is in fact the only insurance
            I carry, aside from Government-mandated
            liability insurance on my car.
            I do hate taxes, because I don't accept the
            notion that my fellow citizens ought to be able
            to confiscate my resources just because they
            pass a law saying that they can. But I hate
            even more the idea that I ought to be taxed to
            benefit the shiftless and irresponsible. I'm
            already sick and tired of "bringing everybody
            along for the ride", and I cannot abide allowing
            them to take the wheel of the car. If I were
            stupid enough to pick up a hitchhiker, I
            certainly wouldn't allow him to dictate my route
            or destination. Of course if he held a gun on
            me, I wouldn't have much choice -- which is how
            I see the Government acting under America's
            Brilliant Comrade.
            Even my insurance, good as it is, will surely
            limit the treatments available to me. Still, I
            do believe that this is better (for me) than
            having the Government determine those limits.
            I don't believe in competent Government, since I
            haven't seen one since the days of Ronald
            Reagan. Now that the people have realized that
            they can vote themselves any benefit from the
            public treasury, I fear that I'll never see one
            After subscribing to <i>The Atlantic</i> for
            many years, I allowed my subscription to lapse
            in mid-2008. The even-handedness that I had
            long admired in the magazine was discarded
            during the campaign, along with my respect for
            its writers and editors. Still, your summary of
            Mr. Goldhill's ideas sounds intriguing, because
            it might succeed in returning personal
            responsibility to the health-insurance arena. I
            do sometimes wonder why I refrain from visiting
            the doctor for every little complaint, even
            though I could -- as some others do. I guess I
            don't believe in squandering the limited
            resource. See, I <i>do</i> think of someone
            besides myself!
            It all comes down to whose ox is being gored.
            Nothing that I have read or heard about the so-
            called "reform" of the health-care system has
            convinced me that I would benefit in any way.
            On the contrary, the changes that Pelosi and
            Reid are preparing to ram down our throats will
            serve only to reduce my choices and attach even
            more leeches to my wallet.
            If people are so enamored of the way other
            nations handle health care, let them emigrate.
            I will continue to oppose them, even as they
            flush our once-great Nation down the toilet.