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Gingrich under fire for shifting views on healthcare mandate [Video]

December 27, 2011|By Kim Geiger
  • Republican presidential candidate and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich pauses while answering a question during a campaign stop at a luncheon meeting of the Dubuque, Iowa, Rotary Club.
Republican presidential candidate and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich… (Jessica Reilly / Telegraph…)

As a Republican presidential candidate, Newt Gingrich has routinely criticized rival Mitt Romney for enacting a 2006 healthcare bill in Massachusetts that required citizens to carry health insurance.

But a video and newsletter unearthed Tuesday show that Gingrich, as a private citizen, was a strong backer of the so-called individual mandate.

Acknowledging that it was, “for a conservative, a little controversial,” Gingrich said in 2008 that he believed, “You’ve got to require everybody to either have insurance or to post a bond.” (Video below.)

People who can afford to buy insurance but don’t carry it are, “making a calculated gamble that if they’re sick, you’ll take care of them,” Gingrich said in the 2008 speech, which was posted Tuesday by BuzzFeed. “The one loophole I’ll give them is, if you don’t want to buy any insurance, post a bond. And we could figure out the value of the bond, but probably if you posted $100,000 or $150,000 bond, you wouldn’t have to buy insurance because you’d have a pool of money that was available.”

Also Tuesday, the Wall Street Journal dug up an April 2006 newsletter under Gingrich’s name that commended Romney’s healthcare bill. The newsletter was once posted to the website of Gingrich’s Center for Health Transformation but no longer appears on the site. The Journal retrieved it using a database that archives old Web pages.

In the newsletter, which came under the header “Newt Notes,” Gingrich praised the Massachusetts healthcare bill as having “tremendous potential to effect major change in the American health system.”

“We agree entirely with Governor Romney and Massachusetts legislators that our goal should be 100% insurance coverage for all Americans,” it said. “… The Romney plan attempts to bring everyone into the system.”

The video and newsletter gave Romney, who has been dogged by persistent criticism that he has flip-flopped on key positions, an opportunity to remark on a rival’s shifting position.

“I'm familiar with the fact that he supported individual mandates in the past and was supportive ... generally of the plan we had in Massachusetts, and he's changed his view in the election year," Romney told reporters at a campaign stop in New Hampshire.

The individual mandate became a rallying cry in recent years for conservatives who saw President Obama’s healthcare bill as an overreach into people’s private lives. Many argue that the new law is unconstitutional because of the mandate.

But the concept of a mandate was, up until Democrats embraced it in recent years, widely viewed as the Republican alternative to turning to the government to control the rise of healthcare costs.

In an email statement Tuesday, Gingrich spokesman R.C. Hammond dismissed the 2006 newsletter as “old news.”

“Newt previously supported a mandate for health insurance and changed his mind after seeing its effects,” Hammond said. “The real question is why Moderate Mitt won't admit that health insurance mandates don't work."

Hammond told the Journal that Gingrich did not write the newsletter, but noted that it did criticize the plan. “Being critical … isn’t endorsing it,” he said.

The Massachusetts plan -- like the Democrats’ federal healthcare law -- offered subsidized insurance for low-income residents. Those making less than about $30,000 a year would be eligible for the subsidies.

“We agree strongly with this principle, but the details are crucial when it comes to the structure of this plan,” the newsletter said. “… We propose that a more realistic approach might be to limit the mandate to those individuals earning upwards of $54,000 per year.”

kim.geiger@latimes.com

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