Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich says President Barack Obama is being “disingenuous” in telling the American people that Congress is going to design a fair, neutral playing field when it comes to offering a public healthcare option.
“I think it would be totally out of touch with reality,” Gingrich said on ABC News. “I think it's disingenuous on the president's part, and it wouldn't work.”
“I think that it's very important that we not allow a bureaucracy to get set up,” he told Dr. Timothy Johnson, ABC's medical editor, one day after the president went on national television to answer questions on his plans for healthcare reform.
“I guarantee you the language they draft for the public plan will give it huge advantages over the private sector or it won't work,” Gingrich said.
“What they will do is rig the game. I mean, anybody who's watched this Congress . . . I mean, look what they did with Chrysler, with the 55 percent of it to the union.”
Gingrich acknowledged that many people now have a private insurance office between them and their doctor and argue constantly with their insurance company about coverage.
But "in that setting, if you don't like your current insurance company, you can change insurance companies,” he said. “But if you ended up with a single national health system, you wouldn't be able to change bureaucrats. And if you look at the experience in France or Canada or Great Britain, if you look at the waiting lines in Canada, where, despite three years of effort, they've not been able to shorten the waiting lines, because in fact the system doesn't work.”
During the televised healthcare forum, Obama struggled to explain whether his proposals would force normal Americans to make sacrifices that wealthier people wouldn't face. What he did say he wants is a system where the same rules and regulations would apply to the public option as to the private insurance companies.
When told the president said private companies have had 30 years to prove they can run healthcare well and haven’t, Gingrich disagreed.
“They have it done well,” he said. “And the fact is, overall, 71 percent of Americans are relatively satisfied with their health insurance.”
When reminded that 46 million remain uninsured, including those with pre-existing conditions and several million illegal immigrants, Gingrich countered that there are 260 million Americans who are.
“It's a significant number. The question is: Are there ways to solve that that don't require creating a government monopoly? And I think there are a lot of ways.”
Gingrich acknowledged that, although he opposes government insurance per se, he doesn’t want to repeal Medicare.
“What we did do is we've created more choices in Medicare to give people a wider range of opportunity, and there you have an effort on the part of the left even to eliminate the choices,” he said.
“Medicare is a good example. You know, the government already runs about 48 percent of all spending on healthcare. Now, if the government is so clever about reforming healthcare, they could create models in the 48 percent they already have. Instead, the effort is to get the other 52 percent. And if you go out and you talk to hospitals, for example, if the whole country were reimbursed at the rate of the Medi-Cal program, which is California Medicaid, virtually every hospital in the country would collapse.”
Gingrich said there is a role for government in regulation, in setting standards, and in making sure that certain basic criteria are met.
“Look,” he said, “I'm a Theodore Roosevelt Republican. I think there are a lot of roles for government to set the rules, but not to run the system. I don't want the government to be the primary operator of the health system. I don't want the government to try to run things. I don't think the government runs things very well.”
But Gingrich doesn’t believe an Obama healthcare reform system should tax employer health benefits as income to help pay for it.
“I see no rational reason to go out and punish people who have worked hard and who have a good health plan and say, why don't we attack your health plan because we've decided you have too much health insurance.”
Instead, he would like to see everybody have the same tax advantage, whereby everybody would have the same access to being able to buy health insurance, except if they're very poor. In that instance, Gingrich said the poor should be given a tax credit rather than a tax deduction.
As a politician, Gingrich acknowledges there is a reasonably good chance a reform package can get done this year.
“I think that the president faces a very big decision, whether he wants to move to the left and have a Waxman/Rangel big government bill, which I think may not be able to get through the Senate, or whether he really wants to have a genuinely bipartisan approach. And I don't think it's clear yet which way they'll go.”
He added: “I think if they [the Obama administration] thought they could get away with it, they'd go with a very left wing bill. But I'm not sure. If you look at, for example, the most recent poll that showed 58 percent of the country now wants to cut spending even if it lengthens the recession, that's a level of concern about spending that begins to bring a pressure to bear on Capitol Hill that's different than it was three months ago.”
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