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McCain Visits a Hospital in Allentown

Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) is shown a Life Book by Dr. Faunda Campbell as cancer patient Mary Joyce Robinson of Carbondale, Pa., looks on at the Lehigh Valley Hospital in Allentown, Pa., on April 30, 2008. (Getty Images)

By Michael D. Shear
ALLENTOWN, Pa. -- Sen. John McCain heaped praise on a hospital here for its innovative use of technology as he continued a week-long health-care tour aimed at highlighting his free-market plans for revamping the way medical insurance is delivered.

But McCain came under immediate criticism from Democrats who pointed out that the hospital -- Lehigh Valley -- had been the recipient of budget earmarks like those that McCain opposed in his ongoing battle against pork barrel spending on Capitol Hill.

The afternoon event was designed by McCain's campaign as an interactive demonstration of medical technology at a hospital that is described as one of the most "paper-free" in the country.

Doctors at the facility used several large flat-screen televisions to connect to remote locations, displayed real-time patient data on computer screens and showed how medical records, including X-rays, could be instantly retrieved on its network.

"Innovation ... is the wellspring that will bring us new treatments, better information and put families in charge of their health care," said Elliot Sussman, the president and CEO of the hospital.

A woman suffering from ovarian cancer described how the hospital's technology helped her treatment and recovery. Another woman told how her high-risk pregnancy was treated from a remote facility 100 miles away because of technology. A third told how she was treated for a
severe case of the flu.

McCain asked questions of the doctors ("What has been the effect on costs on this way of technology as opposed to the old way?") and made comments ("Wonderful story!") as several patients related their high-tech experiences at the hospital.

But Democrats immediately pounced. The clinical program that treated the woman for ovarian cancer was the result of a $10 million earmark that was renewed for eight years, they noted. And the hospital received at least two other earmarks for construction and equipment.

"As usual, the double-talk on earmarks was on full display in Allentown today," said Democratic National Committee spokesman Damien LaVera. "The one thing that remains clear is that John McCain is the wrong choice for America's future."

Later, as he rode with reporters on the Straight Talk Express, McCain defended himself, saying that he opposes the system of earmarks, in which programs avoid the regular scrutiny of Congress, but said the process does award some worthy programs.

He compared his desire to end earmarks to the mafia, saying the infamous mob might have done some "good projects" but "I can't give you a justification for the mafia."

By Washington Post Editors  |  April 30, 2008; 6:56 PM ET
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