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Live From AMGA: Doc the Vote

Elyas Bakhtiari, for HealthLeaders Media, March 7, 2008
Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich and former Senator Bill Bradley kicked off the AMGA annual conference in Orlando with 30,000-foot discussion of the healthcare system that was characterized for the most part by compromise and bipartisanship--traits politicians tend to develop when they are no longer running for office.

The two agreed about the importance of insuring every American--though they disagreed about how to reach that goal--and emphasized personal responsibility as well as government oversight in revamping the healthcare system. One surprising twist: The Democrat on stage, Bradley, was unwilling to take a firm position on individual mandates, but Republican Gingrich surprised moderator Cici Connolly and some audience members by saying his views had evolved during the past 10 years and he now supports mandates for wealthy individuals who forgo health insurance to purchase luxury items. I caught up with Gingrich after the session to talk about the details of this mandate program.

Other topics discussed included:

EMRs. There isn't a single physician in the country who couldn't afford an EMR system if they had to purchase the equipment, and the government should step up its role in encouraging physicians to move in that direction, Bradley said. Gingrich said part of the problem was that government views spending on information technology as a cost rather than an investment that will pay off and improve the health system.

Medical errors. The key to reducing medical errors is providing incentives for providers to report errors when they occur so that healthcare leaders and government officials can identify patterns, Bradley said. He called for greater transparency, and said sometimes malpractice fears prevented physicians from being open about mistakes. Gingrich added that the industry could learn from the handful of innovators who have identified best practices and significantly reduced errors in their facilities.

Personal responsibility. Both Gingrich and Bradley said healthcare reform would depend on patients taking greater personal responsibility for their health and suggested the government could play a role in changing the culture by mandating physical education in schools or rewarding food stamp recipients who use the government funds to purchase healthy foods, for example.

Neither really addressed how the remaining presidential candidates would address the problems, or implement the solutions, they talked about. Though the session was billed as "how your vote will influence the future of American healthcare," the focus was on Bradley's and Gingrich's views, rather than McCain's, Clinton's, or Obama's.

But the two closed out the session by discussing the current race and by making predictions about the outcome. We may hear a lot more about some of the topics discussed today, particularly Gingrich's ideas, if one of Bradley's predictions turns out true: He thinks Republican nominee John McCain will pick the former Speaker as a running mate.


Elyas Bakhtiari is a managing editor with HealthLeaders Media. He can be reached at ebakhtiari@healthleadersmedia.com.