As Washington begins the debate to consider reforming the nation's gun laws, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich recognized deficiencies in current law, but he emphasized the importance of holding Congressional hearings to examine mental health issues "before we go rushing off on a whole new set of rules."
"As a result of the deinstitutionalization of mental health over the last 30 years, there are a significant, small group of people who are on the streets who clearly would have been judged dangerous 20 or 25 years ago," Gingrich said at the Capitol this morning. "When you talk mass murders…that we've seen with Newtown and others, Virginia Tech, for example or Aurora, I think that's a limited enough number of cases. You could actually put together a study that asks what are the common behaviors, what are the common patterns because that's a very specific number of people."
Georgia Republican Rep. Tom Price, M.D., agreed that members of Congress don't have enough information to recommend an appropriate course of action.
"You have to get the information," Price, co-chair of the Congressional Health Caucus, said. "As physicians, you've got to make the correct diagnosis of the patient before you can actually treat the patient. I don't think we have a correct diagnosis about the challenges that are out there for individuals with mental illness who can potentially become a harm to society."
Gingrich reacted to what he called "the larger question of violence," calling on Congress to hold hearings in Chicago, which is the murder capital of the United States even though Illinois enforces some of the country's toughest gun control measures.
"Virtually every gun being used in Illinois is illegal," Gingrich said. "More regulations for the honest and law-abiding, but not for criminals, are in fact destructive."
Gingrich said he has a "personal hunch" that Congress could modify the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, also known as HIPAA, which enacted federal privacy protections that provide patients with an array of rights for personal health information.
"HIPAA has made it far too difficult to surface potentially dangerous people," Gingrich said, predicting a "big fight" with privacy groups.
Texas Republican Rep. Michael Burgess , M.D., pointed out to the former speaker that HIPAA passed during his tenure as speaker. Burgess, co-chair of the Congressional Health Caucus, called it "the worst day of our lives as practicing physicians."
"HIPAA clearly went too far," Gingrich conceded. "The question is if you have information and you have a reason to believe this person is dangerous, should there be a way to surface that?"
Gingrich, who served as speaker from 1995 to 1999, was at the Capitol to meet with the Congressional Health Caucus and discuss a legislative path toward health care reforms in the new Congress.
He said he's "not going to pick to fight" on any single aspect of the Affordable Care Act, but he said lawmakers should listen to doctors and constituents to better determine which health care reforms from the law work and which ones fall short or are complicated by bureaucracy.
"This was a badly written bill," Gingrich said. "[The Obama administration] is issuing year-long delays because they can't implement it."
"Everything we've seen so far about government bureaucracies is being lived out in this area: anti-competition, anti-new technology done at the convenience of the bureaucrat," he added. "If you would like the doctor to be more focused on the patient and you'd like the doctor's office to cost less, to what extent is unnecessary paper technology" increasing costs.
While House Republicans voted dozens of times to repeal, replace, disrupt and dismantle Obamacare in the last Congress, Price said the new Congress should take a vote on full repeal to put freshmen members on the record on the controversial legislation.
"It's important to make that statement as a conference because we have 35 new members of the Republican conference who haven't had an opportunity to weigh in on that," Price said. "It's also important to give the [Democrats a vote]. I think they have 45 new individuals who have never had an opportunity to voice an opinion."
Gingrich said he believes researchers are "on the edge of enormous breakthroughs in brain science and regenerative medicine" but bureaucratic red tape at federal agencies like the Food and Drug Administration, "retard the development" of regenerative medicine and brain research.
"The process of implementing government run health care will lead to a lot of different opportunities to have hearings that return a focus to the patient, to the individual, and to solving some very key problems," Gingrich said. "I hope that this will be a year of making sure that we surface waste, and we surface fraud, and we surface those things that aren't working because that's a key part. You can't talk about controlling government spending and not look at 18 to 20 percent of the economy."
The former Republican presidential candidate touted "extraordinary progress" in regenerative medicine - the ability to take an individual's cells to grow or regenerate tissue - for its "enormous potential to lengthen lives, to increase independent living and to improve the quality of life for people." He also cited "enormous strides" in research on Traumatic Brain Injury, autism, Alzheimer's and mental health.
"These areas will be very ripe to have hearings and bring in the people doing the real research, you know, cut beyond the lobbyists and cut beyond the Washington trade associations and listen for a while to people who are right at the edge of extraordinary breakthroughs" in cancer and kidney disease, he said. "In some places now there are breakthroughs in terms of nerve regeneration, and things that we would have thought were a miracle 15 or 20 years ago, but the government bureaucracy's understanding of the science is way behind what's actually happening in the laboratory."