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Unlikely allies tout healthcare bill

Senator Clinton, Gingrich support computerized data

WASHINGTON -- Longtime political foes Newt Gingrich and Hillary Rodham Clinton joined cheerfully yesterday to promote legislation on healthcare changes, joking that some might view it as a sign of a soon-to-come doomsday.

Clinton, Democrat of New York, and Gingrich, a Republican and former House speaker, appeared outside the Capitol to promote a bill that would modernize medical record keeping.

The senator joked that their joint effort has raised eyebrows. It is not the first time they have worked together. For a longer period, they have collaborated on a panel examining ways to improve military effectiveness.

''At our first meeting, when we were agreeing so much with each other, I think people thought: 'The end is near,' " she said.

When her husband was president, Clinton spearheaded a White House effort to revamp healthcare that failed in Congress. The resistance to her effort helped fuel Gingrich's ''Contract with America" and his rise to the speaker position in 1995.

A decade later, they sound downright chummy. ''I find he and I have a lot in common in the way we see the problems that we're going to have to deal with in order to have a 21st-century healthcare system," said the senator.

Gingrich was equally effusive, saying he was thrilled to be part of the bipartisan effort to reduce the amount of paperwork the healthcare industry creates.

''I'm confident there are things like votes in the Senate, and judges, where there would be dramatic differences, but I think we're both mature enough as adults that we can separate this argument," Gingrich said.

The former House speaker told a meeting of newspaper editors last month that he expects Clinton to win reelection next year, capture her party's presidential nomination in 2008, and have a good chance to win.

Gingrich conceded yesterday that he might run for president in 2008, but said he will spend the coming years focusing on changes needed in the nation.

He made his remarks during a three-day visit to Iowa, where caucuses launch presidential campaigns every four years. His trip included signing copies of his book ''Winning the Future: A 21st Century Contract with America," his vision for national change.

Standing next to the senator yesterday, Gingrich argued that both parties should agree to move healthcare records from the realm of scribbled doctors' notes to electronic record keeping.

Proponents of the measure, which is being offered in the House by Representatives Tim Murphy, Republican of Pennsylvania, and Patrick Kennedy, Democrat of Rhode Island, say the bill would greatly reduce the estimated 98,000 US deaths a year caused by preventable medical errors.

The 21st Century Health Information Act would create regional health information networks to help transfer health data quickly among doctors, hospitals, and nurses, and ensure that hospitals adopt compatible technologies.

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