I started Newt Gingrich’s Saving Lives & Saving Money: Transforming Health and Health Care. Actually, Newt wrote this book with other people, but I’ll only refer to “Newt” when discussing what the author of the book says.
My impression has been that this book in particular is an important book to Newt, for Newt referred specifically to it at least two times in his campaign. I first heard of it when I watched Newt Gingrich’s debate with Herman Cain, and I decided to buy it so that I could learn more about what Newt thought was wrong with America’s health care system, and how he believed the system could be fixed.
At the outset, let me say that one thing that I admire about Newt is that he at least acknowledges that the American health care system is broken. When I hear many other conservatives talk about health care, I wish that I observed in their comments that same sensitivity. Instead, what I hear are goofy arguments. “Oh, the American health care system is the best in the world! Everyone has to be treated in emergency rooms in the United States of America!” Yeah, and that drives up the cost of health care, which is why Obama and Romney have supported an insurance mandate. Plus, I have heard that those without health insurance don’t get as good of care in emergency rooms as people with insurance.
In my last reading of this book by Newt, I encountered one idea that was vintage Newt: that we could reduce bureaucracy and paperwork in the health care system by making more things computerized, thereby saving money. Moreover, like many conservatives, Newt also talks about how trial lawyers contribute to the increasing cost of health care. According to Newt, the litigious culture discourages people from becoming nurses, which is why there is such a shortage of nurses. Plus, because doctors are afraid of being sued, they are reluctant to admit mistakes, which hinders those mistakes from being corrected.
Newt believes that another problem is that there is a third party involved in paying for health care, namely, insurance companies and the government. I doubt that he wants to remove completely any third parties, for he has stated that he supports allowing the elderly to stay in Medicare if that is what they want. But, while third parties may contribute in some manner to the rising costs of health care, I doubt that health care would be cheap were they to leave the picture. Newt himself acknowledges that one reason that the cost of health care has increased is because of the advancements that have been made in health care.
Another point that Newt makes is that Medicaid eats up a lot of states’ budgets, hindering them from spending money on things that they need (i.e., roads). So does Newt support reducing money that is spent on government health care programs? This could be problematic, for, on pages 27-28, he states:
“Because the government accounts for 45% of all healthcare spending, their tactics to control costs have hit the system like an atomic bomb. Decreased reimbursement rates from the government are hurting the bottom line. Doctors and other care providers are forced to see more patients for less time in order to maintain their standard of living. Some doctors are now even charging a ‘membership fee’ of $1,500 to reduce the number of patients they treat.”
Government attempts to control costs have negatively impacted supply-and-demand. But perhaps Newt is saying here that the problem is that the government is too heavily involved in health care at the outset. Because people depend so heavily on the government, what the government does has quite an impact. But suppose people were not as dependent on the government? I myself think that health care would still be expensive.
One final point for this post: On page 17, Newt has a chart, and he’s drawing from information here about insurance premiums. Essentially, the figures show that the annual increase in employer-based insurance premiums was declining until 1996, when it started to increase. A conservative friend of mine once told me that I should thank Bill Clinton for my high premiums (which are actually not employer-based), but I forget what his reasoning was.