I have to admit to not following Newt Gingrich’s career closely. I have heard hime speak in the context of health care and knew that he had given some thought to the subject. When I commented on his PSA stance, I must admit that I just assumed he had always been against death.

Imagine my surprise when I read that his stance on death once reflected a belief that we all might die:

Since the mid-1980s, Gundersen Lutheran hospital has been building a reputation as a national leader in end of life care — encouraging local residents to develop “advance care directives” that give the hospital clear instructions in how aggressive to be in treating various end of life conditions. Today, more than 90 percent of the hospital’s patients complete advance care directives, many of them years before they become seriously ill. Not surprisingly, the hospital relies more heavily than others on palliative care and spends 30 percent less than the national average on end of life medical treatment. As one admirer put it in a July 2009 blog post, “If Gundersen’s approach was used to care for the approximately 4.5 million Medicare beneficiaries who die every year, Medicare could save more than $33 billion a year.”

That admirer? Newt Gingrich. The former House Speaker had close knowledge of Gundersen’s approach: in 2006, the father of his wife Callista passed away at Gundersen after a battle with lung cancer. Gingrich has been open about how well the hospital handled his father-in-law’s end of life care. “What they create is a family relationship in a difficult period so that the families end up being very satisfied,” he said in an April 2009 article in the Columbia (Mo.) Daily Tribune. “The families feel there was dignity, there was dialogue, people were collectively doing something.”

According to this report, it was this Gundersun Lutheran whose experiences informed the Affordable Care Act’s foray into paying for end-of-life counseling (which morphed into “death panels” for some odd reason). As I pointed out a while back, it takes a lot of time and energy to counsel folks regarding options around terminal events, time for which we are not getting paid. I vaguely recalled thinking that Mr. Gingrich might be an ally in this fight. A belief that may have been brought about, in part, by his statement in 2009:

“Government health programs should reward organizations that adopt these best practices through higher reimbursements.”

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