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1:34 pm
Fri November 18, 2011

Gingrich's History On Health Care Gets An Exam

Originally published on Mon November 21, 2011 12:54 pm

Republican Newt Gingrich's presidential stock is rising in the polls. And his newfound popularity is also bringing new scrutiny to what he's been up to since he stepped down as Speaker of the House in 1998.

A health policy think tank Gingrich founded, the Center for Health Transformation, collected at least $37 million from a wide variety of health care companies, The Washington Post reported.

But in addition to the money, some of the positions Gingrich took while at the organization's helm are raising eyebrows.

What exactly did the Center for Health Transformation want to transform? Well, moving the nation's system from paper to electronic health records to save money and reduce medical errors has long been one of Gingrich's signature issues.

"I think having an electronic health record will be less expensive by a big margin than having paper records, and it's a simple fact that paper kills," he said on NPR's Talk of the Nation in 2005. "So I'm in favor of using modern technology to provide better services at lower cost."

By the way, that's also a goal of last year's health law — the one Gingrich and every other GOP presidential hopeful wants to repeal. The 2009 stimulus bill, which preceded the health law, included $19 billion to help pay to computerize health records.

Then there's that requirement for most Americans to have health insurance — the one Republicans now claim is unconstitutional.

Gingrich sparred over the issue last month at a debate in Las Vegas with former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, the man he's now battling with for first place in the polls. Romney signed a 2006 law that required most residents of his state to either have insurance or else pay a tax penalty.

"There's a lot of big government behind Romneycare; not as much as Obamacare, but a heck of a lot more than your campaign is admitting," said Gingrich.

Romney shot back, "Actually, Newt, we got the idea of an individual mandate from you."

To which Gingrich responded, "That's not true. You got it from the Heritage Foundation," a conservative think tank some credit with originating the idea.

Indeed, wherever Gingrich got the idea, he was happy to tout it in that 2005 Talk of the Nation appearance.

"Our goal has to be for 100 percent of the country to be in the insurance system," he said. "So that means finding ways through tax credits and through vouchers so that every American can buy insurance including, I think, a requirement that if you're above a certain level of income you have to either have insurance or post a bond."

Indeed, while the former speaker is facing scrutiny for the millions he's earned since leaving public office, in the end, it may be his words, not his money, that give voters pause.

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Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

GUY RAZ, HOST:

And I'm Guy Raz. Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich is back at the campaign forefront. Most recent polls show him in the top three and with that rise comes more scrutiny of how Gingrich has made a living since leaving the job of House Speaker back in 1998. Today, the Washington Post reports that a health policy think tank founded by Gingrich collected at least $37 million from health care companies. NPR's Julie Rovner reports.

JULIE ROVNER, BYLINE: Gingrich's interest in health care goes back a long way, says Ed Cutler(ph), who was a health staffer to the then-speaker on Capitol Hill.

ED CUTLER: Health care's always been close to his heart and an issue where he's spent an inordinate amount of time.

ROVNER: Cutler's now a partner at the lobbying firm Clark and Weinstock. He says some of his firm's clients were contributors to Gingrich's think tank, the Center For Health Transformation, and he never heard any complaints.

CUTLER: My takeaway was always that they were happy to participate in the center and thought they were getting value added for the dollars they were investing over there.

ROVNER: So what exactly did the Center For Health Transformation want to transform? Well, moving the nation's system from paper to electronic health records to save money and reduce medical errors has long been one of Gingrich's signature issues. Here he is on NPR's TALK OF THE NATION in 2005.

NEWT GINGRICH: I think having an electronic health record will be less expensive by a big margin than having paper records, and it's a simple fact that paper kills. So I'm in favor of using modern technology to provide better services at lower cost.

ROVNER: And by the way, that's also a goal of last year's health law, the one Gingrich and every other GOP presidential candidate wants to repeal. The 2009 stimulus bill, which preceded the health law, included $19 billion to help pay to computerize health records. Then there's that requirement for most Americans to have health insurance, the one Republicans now claim is unconstitutional. Here's an exchange from a Republican debate last month between Gingrich and the man he's now battling with for first place in the polls, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney.

GINGRICH: So there's a lot of big government behind Romneycare, not as much as Obamacare, but a heck of a lot more than your campaign is admitting.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE SPEAKER: Governor Romney? Thirty seconds.

MITT ROMNEY: Actually, Newt, we got the idea of an individual mandate from you.

GINGRICH: No, that's not true. You got it from the Heritage Foundation.

ROVNER: Indeed, wherever Gingrich got the idea, he was happy to tout it in that 2005 TALK OF THE NATION appearance. That was a year, by the way, before Romney signed the Massachusetts state law requiring most of his state's residents to have coverage or pay a tax penalty.

GINGRICH: Our goal has to be for 100 percent of the country to be in the insurance system. And so that means finding ways through tax credits and through vouchers so that every American can buy insurance including, I think, a requirement that if you're above a certain level of income, you have to either have insurance or post a bond.

ROVNER: So, while the former speaker is facing scrutiny for the millions he's earned since leaving public office, in the end it may be his words, not his money, that give voters pause. Julie Rovner, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.