Newt Gingrich has attacked Mitt Romney on the issue of the individual health insurance mandate, while chalking up his own past support for the idea as an indiscretion in the 1990's. But as it turns out, those 1990's stretch all the way to 2005 - and beyond, to 2008 - when Gingrich gave as passionate an explanation of the mandate idea as any current supporter could ever muster.
On his own web site, Gingrich's campaign explains: "In the 1990s, Newt and many other conservatives, such as the Heritage Foundation, proposed a mandate to purchase health insurance as the alternative to Hillarycare. However, the problems outlined above caused Newt to come to the principled conclusion that a mandate to purchase health insurance was unconstitutional, unworkable and counterproductive to lowering the cost of healthcare."
However, in a YouTube video flagged by Health Care for America Now, as recently as 2005, well beyond the 1990s, Newt was vociferously championing the mandate - just a few years before Democrats took it up, and in the process reversing pretty much all past support for it among some Republicans.
At a forum in 2005, alongside then-Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) and former Sen. John Breaux (D-LA), Gingrich explained the tradeoffs that both the right and the left would have to make in health care: For the right, some transfer of wealth is involved in providing health care for the working poor, the disabled, and other groups. And for the left, individuals should still have control over their health care, rather than total government management.
"I mean, I am very opposed to a single-payer system - but I'm actually in favor of a 300 million-payer system. Because one of my conclusions in the last six years, and founding the Center for Health Transformation, and looking at the whole system is, unless you have a hundred percent coverage, you can't have the right preventive care, and you can't have a rational system, because the cost-shifts are so irrational, and create second-order problems."
This led Gingrich to a few conclusions of how to implement such a system: Convert Medicaid into a health insurance voucher system as it applies to the working poor (on the rationale that the creation of food-stamps do not involve the government running its own grocery stores); Create very large risk pools for individuals to purchase insurance (i.e., exchanges); and minimize insurance companies from cherry-picking customers.
"I know I risk not sounding as right-wing as I should, to fit the billing," Newt said at one point, which did indeed trigger some audience laughs.
Gingrich then invoked the example of welfare reform in the 1990's - perhaps his single biggest accomplishment from when he was Speaker - and how it got people off of the welfare rolls.
But my point to conservatives is, it's a model of responsibility. If I see somebody who's earning over $50,000 a year, who has made the calculated decision not to buy health insurance, I'm looking at somebody who is absolutely as irresponsible as anybody who was ever on welfare. Because what they've said is, a) I'm gambling that I won't get sick, and b) I'm gambling that if I do get sick, I can cheat all my neighbors.
Now when you talk to hospitals, a very significant part of their non-collectables are people who have money, but have calculated that it's not worth the cost to collect it.
And so I'm actually in favor of finding a way to say, if you're above whatever - whatever the appropriate income level is, you oughtta have either health insurance, or you oughtta post a bond. But we have no right, we have no right in this society, to have a free-rider approach if you're well off economically, to say we'll cheat our neighbors.