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Gingrich calls for health-care cost 'transparency' during two-day stop

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, July 28, 2009 - Former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich lauded Missouri today as "a pioneer'' in making the public aware of how much various health care procedures cost.

Gingrich, who also founded and heads the Center for Health Transformation, offered his praise during a news conference in Frontenac with three area Republican legislators: state Sens. Scott Rupp of St. Charles, and Eric Schmitt of Glendale, as well as Rep. Brian Yates of Lee’s Summit.

Today's event came amid a two-day visit to St. Louis, where Gingrich is speaking to area health-care professionals and visiting various institutions and industries involved in health care. They include:

  • the St. Louis Business Health Care Coalition
  • the Delta Dental Future Focus Forum
  • the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center
  • the St. Charles County-based Citizens for Better Government
  • St. Clair Hospital in Fenton
  • the Chesterfield campus for drug-manufacturing giant Pfizer.

The point of the news conference in Frontenac was to spotlight the Legislature's approval last session of an online display -- open to the public -- of all health-care provider billing of the state for procedures covered by Missouri's Medicaid program (now officially known as MO HealthNet).
From the Gingrich press conference:

Gingrich said it was ridiculous that people seeking health-care services generally have no knowledge, and can't even find out, how much a procedure costs before getting the final bill from the provider or the insurance company.

He compared that approach to that of a grocery store not telling people how much various items cost until they got in the checkout line.

"That's crazy," Gingrich said. "Health care has got to get into the modern world. You have a right to know price and quality."

Gingrich added that he and his center did support universal health care coverage -- but through private insurance. He said that was possible with some tweaks in the system, such as requiring insurers to cover anybody, and barring them from excluding pre-existing conditions.

"That's doable if everybody has to buy it," Gingrich said. "What we don't think will work, is a massive tax increase'' during a struggling economy, which he asserted "will kill jobs."

He added that the federal government could probably save from $70 billion to $120 billion a year just by cracking down on fraud. And Missouri's approach, which puts all the bills online for public viewing, is a good way to combat it, Gingrich said.

In response to reporters' queries, the former speaker also offered a few thoughts on other political topics, such as:

-- Gingrich faulted President Barack Obama's comments about the actions of the Cambridge, Mass., police in its arrest of a Harvard professor, but he added that Obama's decision to invite the professor and the arresting officer to the White House for drinks was "pretty classy."

-- He lauded now-former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as "very charismatic and articulate'' and who has a political future "if she wants one...It depends on what kind of book she writes and the speeches she gives..."

-- As for his own political future, Gingrich said, "I'll be glad to think about it in 2011" -- a year before the 2012 presidential elections.

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.