THE STUMP NOVEMBER 18, 2011
Now that Newt Gingrich is taking his turn at the top of the Republican primary's Ferris wheel, reporters are wasting little time in digging into the vast depths of Newt Incorporated. After Bloomberg News got things going with Gingrich's lucrative work as a housing historian for Freddie Mac, Dan Eggen of the Washington Post and Jim Rutenberg of the New York Times today both took on the Center for Health Transformation, Gingrich's for-profit think tank which, Eggen reports, "collected at least $37 million over the past eight years from major health-care companies and industry groups, offering special access to the former House speaker and other perks" in exchange for annual dues of up to $200,000.
The articles note that the Center has not only been hugely profitable for Gingrich, but has put him in the position of promoting several health care policy positions that are anathema to conservatives and, in some cases, in line with the direction of the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare. Pharmaceutical companies enlisted Gingrich to help win votes for the Medicare drug benefit now reviled as spendthrift by conservatives; the Center advocated an individual insurance mandate for people earning more than $50,000; and it promoted "advance directives" for end of life care, the subject of Sarah Palin's 2009 warnings of "death panels."
Rutenberg focuses on this last point, noting that one of the Center's paying clients was Gundersen Lutheran, a La Crosse, Wisconsin hospital that is a pioneer in end of life care and was leading the push for language in the health care bill that would allow doctors to receive Medicare reimbursement for the time they spend advising patients on advance directives. In fact, as I noted just a few weeks ago, Gundersen Lutheran's link with Gingrich was even stronger than that of a paying client -- it is the hospital where Gingrich's father in law had passed away in 2006 after a battle with lung cancer, after which Gingrich praised the hospital to the skies for the end of life care it had provided.
This close and personal association, of course, did not keep Gingrich from then turning on a dime, after Palin's eruption over the language on reimbursements being sought by Lutheran Gundersen. Within days, he had taken up the cry against Obamacare's threat of "euthanasia."