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Gingrich suggests insurance mandate for those who can afford

16 06 08 - 14:35

OMAHA — Former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich on Wednesday outlined his strategy to combat rising health care costs — a plan of attack that includes insurance mandates for people who earn more than $75,000 a year.

Gingrich called it “fundamentally immoral’’ for a person who can afford insurance to save money by going without, then show up at an emergency room and demand free care. He said those who can afford insurance and choose not to buy it should be required to post bonds to pay for care they may someday need.

Motivating people to watch their health and prevent illness is the first step to cutting costs, Gingrich said.

He also supports a federal tax credit for the working poor to get insurance.

Gingrich was in Omaha Wednesday to visit Omaha’s Alegent Health systems, talking about technology and health care transformation.

He praised Alegent’s health plans, which cover all preventive care.

After leaving Congress in 1999, Gingrich founded the Center for Health Transformation, a think tank that promotes changes in health care.

Gingrich said both Republican presidential candidate John McCain and Democratic hopeful Barack Obama seem willing to take incremental steps toward improved coverage.

Gingrich said everyone should have insurance, but not provided by the federal government.

McCain has suggested a $2,500 refundable tax credit for individuals to buy health insurance and $5,000 for families. He opposes a mandate for universal coverage.

Obama has called for universal coverage by offering care similar to that in a plan for federal employees. He would mandate coverage for children, but not adults.

Medical technology can be key to improving care and cutting costs, Gingrich said. Touring Algent’s Lakeside hospital in west Omaha, he stood in a hospital room and used a two-way camera system to speak to a nurse in a different building.

The nurses in the so-called electronic intensive care unit advise the bedside nurses on critically ill patients.

It’s especially useful to help a younger, less experienced nurse who is working with a complex case during the night shift, said Guillermo Huerta, medical director of the electronic ICU. If an emergency arises, the nurse has immediate help, Huerta said.

Gingrich said rural hospitals need access to the same technology, and encouraged Alegent to work with smaller hospitals across the state to provide technical support.

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