Sunday, November 20, 2011

Gingrich is Smarter than Krugman Thinks

On "This Week," this morning, New York Times Columnist Paul Krugman smarmily commented about Republican Presidential candidate Newt Gingrich, "He's a stupid person's idea of what a smart person sounds like." While I do not agree with Gingrich's platform, I have to defend his intellectual capacity.

When I interviewed about electronic health records for Rx Communications newsletter., he displayed an encyclopedic knowledge of electronic records. Unlike many of his Republican counterparts, he has staked out a very progressive position on healthcare. I have reprinted the interview below.

In an interview with HOC , former US House Speaker Newt Gingrich said he founded his Center for Health Transformation because “I wanted to have an effect; I wanted to save lives and money. America ’s healthcare system is becoming obsolete. The changes that are needed are complex and cannot be done bit by bit. We need an overhaul of the entire system.”
Gingrich cites transparency as a major issue in healthcare. For example, a US Congressional Bill requiring hospitals to report the number of infections was challenged by hospitals because, Gingrich contends, “they don’t want anyone to know the number of infections.”
One of Gingrich’s main goals is to secure a “21st century science and technology budget” that will allow significant research in the fields of Alzheimer’s, and cancer. He wants to secure funding for scientific research and technology “not for one year but for a generation. It is the only way we will achieve significant scientific breakthroughs.”
When asked about the challenge of doing all this during the current economic crisis, Gingrich said: “I don’t not feel sorry for a Congress that could find $1.2 trillion on short notice to bail out Wall Street.”
Another priority for the former Speaker: “We need to study what works and adopt it all across the country. We have learned that the practice that leads to the best outcome turns out to be the least expensive in the long run,” he believes.
But Gingrich’s favourite cause is electronic health records, and particularly e-prescribing. To highlight the issue, the Center for Health Transformation published Paper Kills: Transforming Health and Healthcare with Information Technology , a book by David Merritt, a project director at the Center for Health Transformation and the Gingrich Group. Moreover, he considers that the needed infrastructure investment in electronic health records is just as vital to the country as the railroads were in the 19th century. The total devastation of the paper-based health records of the citizens of Louisiana after hurricane Katrina proves his point.
But he thinks that adopting electronic health records is meeting resistance because “Doctors have deeply ingrained habits. They are very conscious of time. For them, time literally means money. Doctors have also been against this because they are instinctively against big government and the insurance companies,” who may force it on them.
Newt Gingrich dismisses privacy concerns. “When I speak in front of a group, I ask how many use an ATM in a foreign country. The hands of almost everyone in the room are raised. I tell them that the information in their accounts has travelled across borders. They were not concerned about that.” But he believes that “fraud is the more insidious reason that doctors oppose electronic health records. With electronic health records, fraud will be easier to detect.” Over-prescribing and over-billing will be more closely monitored. The Wall Street Journal estimates that 10% of all Medicare billing is fraudulent. Asked how he would propose paying for this, he says that eliminating fraud “will allow electronic records to pay for themselves. The federal government should subsidize the conversion to electronic health records.”
While Gingrich acknowledges that adopting electronic health records for 100% of the population will take time but he is pressing for immediate adoption of e-prescribing. He praises the Medicare Electronic Medication and Safety Protection Act, which established bonuses for the adoption of e-prescribing technology.
Finally, Mr Gingrich had this to say about the cost of adoption: “Would we tolerate it if the airline industry said, ‘we would like to be safer but we can’t afford it’?”

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