Saturday, May 5, 2012

Newt Gingrich on Health Care in Real Change

I read the material about health care in Newt Gingrich's 2008 book, Real Change.  I have four items.

1.  One topic that Newt addresses in Real Change that I did not see in Saving Lives & Saving Money is doctors and dentists who defraud Medicare and Medicaid----by overbilling the government or by requesting reimbursement for services that they did not perform.  Newt believes that this problem costs the health care system money, and he attributes it (at least in part) to bureaucratic incompetence.  After all, he says, while federal bureaucrats go home at 5, defrauders work long hours to figure out ways to cheat the system!

2. On page 227, Newt states that "Allowing individuals to pass their health costs onto others reinforces the attitude that their health is not their problem and adds to the irresponsible, unhealthy behaviors that bankrupt the current system."

I don't think this is entirely fair.  For one, a lot of individuals do not solely pass their health costs onto others in America's health care system.  Even many who have health insurance have high premiums and copays, plus their insurance company may choose not to pay for certain treatments.  Second, it's the current health care system that discourages preventative care, by making people reluctant and afraid to see a doctor on account of high medical costs.

To his credit, Newt is a strong advocate for preventative care.  He wants for the government to lead by example by incentivizing that, and he presumes that private health insurance companies would then follow its lead.  I hope so!  You'd think that private health insurance companies would support preventative care, since that costs them less than catastrophic care, leaving a larger profit for them.  At least that's my opinion about how it would work, and I could be mistaken.

3. On page 235, Newt favorably quotes Franklin Roosevelt, who stated: "The success or failure of any government in the final analysis must be measured by the well-being of its citizens.  Nothing can be more important to a state than its public health; the state's paramount concern should be the health of its people."

I think that this sentiment is biblical (if that matters to you), for Ezekiel 34:2, 4 criticizes the rulers for not curing the ill or binding the broken.  Moreover, the U.S. Constitution talks about promoting the general welfare.  The government is supposed to be concerned about the health and well-being of the country's citizens.

Unfortunately, when I hear many conservatives and libertarians talk, the vibe that I get is that they don't think the government should be concerned about health care.  For them, the government should keep out of it, and people should be responsible for their own health----for good or for ill.  I respect conservatives and libertarians who talk about ways to bring down the cost of health care, but I do not care for the callous approach that some of them appear to convey when discussing what the government's role should be (or should not be).

4.  Did Newt Gingrich support a health insurance mandate, which now is a significant part of President Obama's health care plan (though I am writing this post on April 7, before the Supreme Court has decided on whether or not the mandate will remain a part of the health care law)?  I did not see that in Saving Lives & Saving Money (which was published in 2003), for, while Newt highlighted the importance of universal coverage, he focused on how to make it cheaper for people to purchase health insurance, without mentioning a mandate.  In Real Change, however, he appears to support a mandate.  On page 276, Newt states: "...we should insist that everyone above a certain level buy coverage (or, if they are opposed to insurance, post a bond)."

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