Whether they were red- or blue-affiliated when they entered, attendees at Monday's Benefits Forum & Expo keynote session with former House speaker Newt Gingrich left seeing only purple. Although still a political conservative at heart, Gingrich -- who received a standing ovation -- appealed to everyone across the political spectrum with his remarks on improving U.S. health care and finances.

Among his proposals for transforming the nation's health care system, Gingrich advocates a national defense system for health records -- suggesting we apply the ATM model to health IT.

Even in foreign countries, he pointed out, "we trust the ATM system so much that you'll open your bank account across international borders, take money out in local currency when you don't know the exchange rate and not know what's left in your account afterward." He said similar infrastructure should be the backbone of a national electronic health record program.

Although speaking specifically about health care in his prepared remarks, questions from the audience predictably turned toward the current financial crisis and the proposed government bailout of the nation's banking system.

Dubbing the plan "crony capitalism," and predicting disaster if the proposal passes unedited, Gingrich said he is "deeply opposed" to the administration's proposed bailout and said other alternatives to aiding the economy -- including eliminating the mark-to-market rule and the capital gains tax, and repealing the Sarbanes-Oxley Act -- that "don't involve giving [Treasury Secretary Henry] Paulson $700 billion."

Veering away from the gloom and doom, Gingrich ended on an inspiring note, telling the audience they were "at the early stages of witnessing American creativity that will transform our country, and 25 years from now, we'll say, 'I knew they'd work it out.' The American people are so much more creative than their government."

I admit, I'm pretty blue-blooded (politically, not financially), and I thought he was one of the best conference speakers I've seen in a long time, if not ever. Hopefully, this write-up helped you feel like you were there and captured some of the energy in the standing-room only hall. More coverage of the session and day 2 of BFE is available at BenefitNews.com.

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