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Summit Leaders Agree that Hurricane Katrina Underscores Need for Medicaid Transformation


WASHINGTON, Sept. 21 -- A bipartisan group of leaders agreed yesterday that the devastation left by Hurricane Katrina presents an opportunity to transform America’s broken Medicaid system into one which will better serve the needs of those who depend on it.

“We have witnessed the total collapse of our inherited systems of paper and bureaucracy ... In Katrina, this country saw sitting city, state and federal government systems fail,” said former Speaker Newt Gingrich at a Medicaid summit hosted by Gingrich’s Center for Health Transformation. “Katrina could become the impetus to have one of the most creative Congresses and Administrations in history -- if we look at this tragedy as an opportunity for real change.”

Bipartisan leaders from across the country attended Tuesday’s event, “Creating a 21st Century Medicaid System.” Speakers included CMS Administrator Dr. Mark McClellan, Govs. Mark Warner (D-Va.) and Mike Huckabee (R-Ark.), Sen. Mel Martinez (R-Fla.) and Rep. Nathan Deal (R-Ga.).

The summit revealed that the tragic impact of Katrina is inspiring government leaders to create new approaches to a Medicaid system that experts say is on an unsustainable trajectory in terms of both cost and quality of care.

Dr. McClellan spoke in detail about the broad success of community-based health support systems that have been brought in to aid Katrina victims, and called for rapid recovery to help strengthen the collapsed health infrastructure in affected states. McClellan noted that there is now “tremendous potential to rebuild a better healthcare system, (including) taking new approaches to Medicaid.”

Sen. Martinez said, “the recent crisis has highlighted the problems faced by the most vulnerable in our population.” Gov. Warner concurred, expressing his hope for swift congressional action with appropriate Medicaid relief for hurricane victims and noting that the segments of society hardest hit by the hurricane cannot be cared for without addressing the issue of healthcare. The Governor also spoke about the need to empower states and make Medicaid more accountable to both beneficiaries and taxpayers: “Unless we get our arms around Medicaid, Medicaid will bankrupt every state by 2020.”

Speakers agreed that Medicaid reform should embrace the tenets of responsibility, choice, access and quality. There was also wide support for prompt infusion of life- and money-saving health information technology into Medicaid. “Medicaid must embrace electronic health records,” said Sen. Martinez, stressing that continuity of care for Katrina victims would not have been disrupted had a comprehensive electronic health records system existed. During his speech, Gov. Warner proposed that healthcare providers be encouraged with incentives to adopt health IT.

Raising the issue of future epic natural disasters or major terrorist attacks and/or biological pandemics, Speaker Gingrich challenged the United States in a call-to-action: “Every American should have an electronic health record by January of 2006.” Anticipating critics who fault cost as the biggest barrier to health IT implementation, Speaker Gingrich posed a question: “After Katrina, how much will it cost the federal government to reconstruct the destroyed medical histories of Gulf residents?”

Beyond the Medicaid and Katrina action items, Tuesday’s event also served as the official launch of the Center for Health Transformation’s Medicaid Transformation Project. The Project is charged with the mission to create a 21st Century Responsible Citizen Medicaid Act which will provide better outcomes, save money and eliminate health disparities among America’s minorities.

The Center seeks to transform the administration of Medicaid to an entrepreneurial culture that embraces innovation, emphasizes results over process and focuses on health rather than just healthcare. Goals of the Medicaid Transformation Project include eliminating racial and socio-economic health disparities, making the individual the center of health decision-making and giving governors greater decision-making authority, oversight and responsibility for their Medicaid programs.

A downloadable webcast of “Creating a 21st Century Medicaid System,” is available at the Center for Health Transformation’s Web site: Supplemental materials from the event are also available. For more information on the Center’s Medicaid Transformation Project, please contact Project Director Jim Frogue:


About the Center for Health Transformation:

The Center for Health Transformation, founded by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, is a collaboration of leaders dedicated to the creation of a 21st Century Intelligent Health System that saves lives and saves money for every American. For more information, visit


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