Newt Gingrich on health IT: Then, now and the time between

By Bernie Monegain
10:43 AM
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Newt Gingrich, the self-proclaimed "big ideas candidate," still in the running for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination, has a history with Healthcare IT News.

It goes back to November 2003, and the inaugural issue of MedTech Media’s flagship publication.
  
It was for that issue, and the subsequent January 2004 publication, that Gingrich wrote a two-part commentary on healthcare transformation and the role healthcare information technology might play. By then Gingrich’s role as architect of the Contract with America, and his stint as Speaker of the House were more than five years past.

[Related: All of our coverage of healthcare in the elections 2012.]
  
He had since turned his attention to a number of policy issues, and healthcare seemed to be No. 1. He founded the Center for Health Transformation in 2003, which recently has come under fire for bringing in millions in membership fees from entities such as AHIP and the American Hospital Association.
  
The exclusive two-part Gingrich commentary published in Healthcare IT News was adapted from a talk he gave at The Emerging Technologies & Healthcare Innovations Congress.
  
“There remains a very real and large gap between what is possible in healthcare and the actual state of healthcare,” Gingrich wrote. He advocated for electronic prescribing and for technologies that would establish system-wide efficiencies. He asserted that healthcare – over the next 15 to 20 years – would break “toward a transformed, more personally responsible, incentive-led, and information-rich system, or it is going to break toward a government controlled, bureaucratic, expensive system that rations care.”
  
“Technology can help insure that it doesn’t move toward the latter,” he wrote.
  
In the second part of the commentary, Gingrich took on medical errors.
  
“The entire tenor of the healthcare debate will change as the average American learns how dangerous hospitals are,” he predicted. “Statistically, the chances of dying in a hospital due to a medial error are 2,000 times more likely than dying on a commercial airliner, or 200,000 percent more likely.”
  
He took physicians to task for taking on average (according to the Institute of Medicine) 17 years to acquire a new best practice, and he pointed out that the country was ill equipped to respond to catastrophic public health crises.
  
"[T]he fact will become obvious that we are not connected sufficiently system-wide with doctors, nurses, hospitals, labs and government institutions to deal effectively with a catastrophic bioevent,” he wrote. “To meet this challenge we should create an IT backbone that will enable connectivity with real-time capabilities, which will require a very significant federal investment in information technology over the next four or five years.”
  
Gingrich delivered the keynote talk at the 2004 HIMSS annual conference in Orlando, Fla.
  
“You have an opportunity to do something that’s very important,” he told the audience of thousands of CIOs and other IT professionals. "That something is to transform and to modernize the antiquated, plodding, inefficient U.S. healthcare system.”
  
In 2004, Gingrich called  "disgraceful" the behavior of a Congress that cut $50 million of seed money to fund the work of David J. Brailer, MD, the  nation's health information technology coordinator. President George W. Bush appointed Brailer, who was the first to hold the position now held by Farzad Mostashari, MD.
  
"The Bush administration is at a real crossroads, and it was taken there by Congress when it voted to zero out Dr. Brailer's office," Gingrich said at The Emerging Technologies and Healthcare Innovations Congress in Washington D.C. in November 2004.
  
Speaking in March 2005 at the National Managed Health Care Congress in Washington, D.C.,  he urged the government to pay for electronic medical records. As the largest healthcare payer, the government had a vested interest, he said.
  
"It's clear that the Bush administration is not going to pay for EMRs," said Gingrich, who called the decision “unfortunate.”
  
It was Bush, though, who had the entire healthcare IT industry rallied, when in his 2004 State of the Union address, he called for a digital system for healthcare, without mentioning how the government might or might not be involved. And, it was President Bush who on May 6, 2004, appointed Brailer national coordinator for health IT.
  
Those who followed the healthcare IT industry got used to Gingrich’s assertion, “paper kills" – a phrase he worked into many speeches. It is also the title of a book from the Center for Health Transformation (CHT) featuring contributions from Brandon Savage of GE Healthcare; Scott Serota of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association; Richard Umbdenstock of the American Hospital Association; Glen Tullman of Allscripts; Ed Hammond of Duke University; Tom Fritz and Jac Davies of Inland Northwest Health Services; Ed Fotsch of Medem; Mark Frisse of Vanderbilt University; Richard Bankowitz, Eugene Kroch, and Meg Horgan of CareScience; Beryl Vallejo of BJV Consulting; Mark Rothstein of the University of Louisville; and Michael Heekin, chair of the Governor’s Health Information Infrastructure Advisory Board for the state of Florida.
  
The healthcare clients that fueled much of the success of the Gingrich’s for-profit groups, as reported by The Washington Post and other published reports include America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association, WellPoint Inc., Johnson & Johnson, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America and the American Hospital Association.

[See also: Gingrich: Government should pay for EMRs.]
  
Some of these members paid fees as high as $200,000 a year to join the Center for Health Transformation, according to the center’s website, which also offers this disclaimer: “The Center for Health Transformation does not provide lobbying services nor directly or indirectly participate in lobbying activities of any kind.”
  
Fast-forward to 2012 and the campaign trail to the South Carolina primary. Gingrich rarely initiates talk about healthcare IT these days, or about the individual mandate that the Republicans supported. He has stepped away from the Center for Health Transformation, but questions about CHT and about Freddie Mac continue to dog him.
  
Today on his campaign website Newt2012, Gingrich advocates for a 13-point “Patient Power” plan for healthcare. There is no direct mention healthcare IT or government payments for EMRs.
  
"We must repeal and replace the left's big government health bill with real solutions that will lower costs and improve health outcomes,” he writes at the top.