Yesterday, Newt Gingrich did not answer questions regarding his past support for an individual health insurance mandate, as a recently discovered audio clip recorded in May 2009 showed. Here's what Gingrich said then:
We believe that there should be must-carry, that is everybody should either have health insurance, or if you're an absolute libertarian, we'd allow you to post a bond. We would not allow people to be free-riders failing to insure themselves and then showing up at the emergency room.
In an email, Gingrich communications director Joe DeSantis said the audio is "nothing new."
Newt has been forthcoming about his past support of an insurance requirement or a bond, particularly as part of an alternative to HillaryCare that most Republicans supported. This clip from May 2009 was a conceptual discussion about how an insurance requirement may help lower perpetually rising healthcare costs. He did not say anything about the federal government or ObamaCare, he simply agreed with the broad concept that any healthcare reform should reduce costs and be arrived at in a transparent process. Unfortunately, Democrat lawmakers arrived at a plan that was neither cost-saving nor transparent.
No legislation had even been introduced at that point, so he could not have been commenting on ObamaCare. When legislation was introduced, Newt fervently and consistently opposed it.
DeSantis claims that Gingrich, at the time, was not talking about a federal "insurance requirement," but the context of the entire conversation, during which Gingrich was laying out the policy goals of his Center for Health Transformation, suggests that's exactly to what the former House speaker was referring.
In May of 2009, President Barack Obama, whose approval rating was around 64 percent, was initiating the legislative process that was to become Obamacare. The conference call on which Gingrich made these comments was in direct response to a White House press conference on health care reform. If Gingrich wasn't talking about national policy when he said that "everybody should either have health insurance" or have to post a bond, then what was he talking about? A plan for each state to implement, like what Mitt Romney did in Massachusetts? The campaign has not responded to my follow-up questions.
It's worth noting that at the same time Gingrich was endorsing the insurance requirement and praising Obama's initial efforts at health care reform, some conservatives, like James Capretta and Yuval Levin, were warning about the problem of Obamacare. Here's part of what Capretta and Levin wrote for the May 18, 2009 issue of THE WEEKLY STANDARD:
The program's basic shape seems likely to follow the outlines of Obama's campaign proposal. Employers would be required to provide health coverage or pay a fine, proceeds from which would support the creation of a new government-run insurance option. There would be a national insurance exchange through which those without access to employer-provided coverage could enroll in the public plan or one of a range of private plans that agree to certain conditions (including covering all comers, regardless of health status). And those below a certain income threshold (likely around 300 percent of the poverty line) would receive subsidies to purchase such coverage.
This is clearly intended to be transitory, rather than a final program. It would create incentives for employers to drop their health coverage plan (by making it cheaper to pay the fine than offer coverage) and would enable the new public insurance plan to undersell private insurers by imposing price controls similar to those employed in Medicare. A large number of workers finding themselves without their old employer-based coverage would "opt" for the public plan, creating, in effect, a massive new public health insurance program. Call it single payer by degrees.