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September 23, 2008
Newt Gingrich's 3 Initiatives to Transform Health Care

Chris Ceplenski
Senior Editor

Newt Gingrich wants to transform health care in America. And the former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives has three initiatives for fundamental reform that he shared with an audience of HR and benefits professionals Monday in his keynote address at the 21st Annual Benefits Forum & Expo in National Harbor, Maryland (Washington DC Metro Area). His proposals include the collection and implementation of best practices, a transition to electronic health records, and an investment in new technologies.

Gingrich is the founder of the Center of Health Transformation, "a high-impact collaboration of private and public sector leaders committed to creating a 21st Century Intelligent Health System that saves lives and saves money for all Americans." According to its website, the Center operates under the premise that "[s]mall changes or reactionary fixes to separate pieces of the current system have not and will not work. We need a system-wide transformation."

In his keynote address, Gingrich first explained that in order to bring about change, we must start with engaging the individual. Gingrich notes, for example, that a doctor or nurse can never manage diabetes or obesity--the individual must be engaged in terms of his/her own health as a first step.

Gingrich attests that data supports the idea that people who are happier are healthier. If an individual is optimistic, his/her immune system is stronger. Smiling releases endorphins that have positive effects on one's health. This is just one reason why Gingrich believes that when it comes to changes regarding their health care, individuals should be incentivized and empowered--never punished.

What are some ways to accomplish this? Gingrich emphasized great strides in technological advancements, noting that next-generation cell phones will have more programming capability than laptops that were made 3 years ago and that HR take advantage of such technology. He says that information, reminders and incentives can and should be delivered via cell phones. Cell phones could be used to schedule check-ups or issue doctor's appointment reminders, as examples. Gingrich wants HR professionals to ask "What can I do in this world [of technology] that I never would have dreamed of under traditional models?"

Here are the three public policy initiatives Gingrich recommends for transforming health care:

1) Recreate the health debate around health-based health reform. By this he means that we go around the country and find best practices--those that are reducing medical errors and infection rates for example.

Gingrich says that the current health care delivery system is "very decentralized" and, notably, is paper-based. The results are "very high costs with huge deficiencies" he says. He believes that as other industries--such as manufacturing--have long-since accomplished, hospitals and doctor's offices should implement established best practices/set of patterns.

The federal government should insist that lower-performing hospitals/doctor's offices implement a set of patterns/best practices based on this research in a relatively short time Gingrich used the example of hospital infections--he says the government should incentivize worst-performing hospitals to implement established/proven best practices to reduce them.

2) Propose a National Defense Electronic Health System Act, under which the federal government would finance the transition to a paperless health system (by December 2012). With a paperless system, Gingrich says, fraud (often perpetrated by doctors) can be identified in real time, whereas with paper-based systems "you never catch up with the crooks."

He says that research shows that billions of dollars per year could be saved by reducing fraud rates under an electronic system. And he projects that we would have a surplus within 2 years of making the change--meaning the savings will more than offset the initial costs. (Currently, Gingrich says, some hospitals are making a gradual move to electronic systems, but overall health insurance companies are not really making a concerted effort to do so.)

3) Create the Investment-Based Budget Act, which would fund changes in health care from an investment perspective vs. a cost perspective. Gingrich recalled a recent meeting with Fred Smith, founder and CEO of FedEx who explained that if FedEx was being created now and asked the government to fund it, the response would be to fund the cost of the trucks for delivery, but not for equipment related IT (computers, etc.), as the government would question the necessity of such equipment. As a result, FedEx would have never succeeded because the government would only be addressing immediately necessary costs versus making investments for future progress. Gingrich pointed audience members toward a related YouTube video called "FedEx vs. government bureaucracy," available at www.youtube.com/watch?v=15D3ElV1Jzw. (The video also includes some poignant talking points and a joke Gingrich made in his keynote address).

Now, thanks to investments in technology, FedEx (as well as UPS and others) can allow individuals to track their moving packages online. Why then, Gingrich asks, can't individuals have access to their unique electronic health records that are updated in real time? He says that his proposed Act could help make this concept a reality.

For more information on Gingrich's proposals, see the Center's website at Center of Health Transformation ( www.healthtransformation.net).

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