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A Sad Coda To The Gingrich Ego Trip

It became clear this week that Newt Gingrich's ego trip campaign, which brought him one glorious night in South Carolina, has come at the cost of losing a very lucrative racket: the for-profit health care think tank he presided over this past decade has filed for bankruptcy. From the Washington Post:

The Center for Health Transformation had promoted private-sector solutions to America’s skyrocketing health-care costs. It also became a source of significant cash for Gingrich and his wife, Callista. The Washington Post reported that the center took in $37 million in donations, primarily from big pharmaceutical and health-care corporations, in its eight years in business.
The center had advertised Gingrich as its primary asset, and dues-paying companies such as Astra Zeneca and Blue Cross Blue Shield were offered direct access to the former House speaker and his strategic advice. But when Gingrich announced his plans to run for president last summer, he sold his ownership interest in the group and had to give up his role as chief fundraiser for the center.

To appreciate the pathos of the center's demise, consider it from the perspective of one of its dues-paying clients, Gundersen Lutheran Medical Center in La Crosse, Wisconsin, whose tortured relationship with Gingrich I have documented before. The hospital has for a years been a pioneer in the use of "advanced care directives," and joined the Center for Health Transformation, paying dues at the highest level, to help promote the hospital's approach to end of life care. Gundersen drew rave reviews from Gingrich for the care it provided his father-in-law leading up to his 2006 death from lung cancer. But in the summer of 2009, Gundersen found itself in the eye of the storm over Obamacare. Gundersen was leading the push for language in the legislation that would have allowed medical providers to receive Medicare reimbursement for counseling on advance care directives. It was this language that Sarah Palin seized on in her warnings about "death panels." And Gingrich, just days after his latest praise of Gundersen's approach, latched onto the death panel bandwagon, warning darkly about the legislation's road to "euthanasia." The hospital was stunned at his sudden desertion from its cause, and dismayed when the language later failed to make it into the final version of the law. It eventually downgraded its membership in CHT to the lowest level of dues, which Bud Hammes, who has for years overseen the hospital's end of life program, told me today was the result of a "frustration with a lack of delivery of services" by CHT.

But in a sign of just how capricious and lightly-held Gingrich's comments had been, the CHT happily proceeded with a joint project of great importance to Gundersen, a book about its approach to end of life care. The book, published under CHT's name but with most of its printing and promotional costs covered by Gundersen, appeared a few months ago. It's called Having Your Own Say: Getting the Right Care When It Matters Most. There were 5,000 copies printed, and it's selling pretty well so far, thanks to a couple 1,000-copy bulk purchases by Aetna, which figures in the book, and another group called the Coalition to Transform Advanced Care. Most of the rest of the books are now sitting stacked in a warehouse in La Crosse -- a curious legacy of that big thinker, and even bigger opportunist, Newton Leroy Gingrich.

follow me on Twitter @AlecMacGillis