Newt Versus the Individual Mandate


Newt Gingrich appeared on NBC’s Meet the Press last Sunday to discuss his presidential run, and was asked about his position on ObamaCare and its notorious “individual mandate.”  Host David Gregory set the stage by replaying comments Gingrich made in 1993:

“I am for people, individuals – exactly like automobile insurance – individuals having health insurance and being required to have health insurance.  And I am prepared to vote for a voucher system which will give individuals, on a sliding scale, a government subsidy so we insure that everyone as individuals have health insurance.”

“What you advocate there is precisely what President Obama did with his healthcare legislation, is it not?” asked Gregory.

“No, it’s not precisely what he did,” replied Gingrich.  “In the first place , Obama basically is trying to replace the entire insurance system , creating state exchanges, building a Washington – based model, creating a federal system . I believe all of us – and this is going to be a big debate – I believe all of us have a responsibility to help pay for health care.” 

He went on to say “there are ways to do it that make most libertarians relatively happy.”  I wonder if he’s considered using that as a campaign slogan.  Gingrich 2012: I Will Make Most Libertarians Relatively Happy.

One way Gingrich might bring relative bliss to a broad swath of the libertarian population is by having “some requirement that you either have health insurance, or you post a bond, or in some way you indicate you’re going to be held accountable.”  When David Gregory asked if that didn’t amount to an individual mandate, Gingrich conceded, “It’s a variation on it.”

Evidently it’s a really broad variation on the individual mandate, rather like the way Forbidden Planet was a variation on The Tempest, because Gingrich clarified his remarks with a Twitter message today: “I oppose the ObamaCare mandate.  Period.”  He explains at greater length in the video below:

The French have a saying, l’esprit de l’escalier, which describes all the things you wish you had said, but don’t pop into your head until you’re tripping down the stairwell after a heated conversation.  Newt Gingrich appears to have discovered the spirit of Meet the Press.  It’s what happens after a candidate accustomed to thinking out loud realizes he just spent several minutes juggling highly explosive words on national television.

Leaving aside the political ramifications of a Republican presidential nominee spending a few minutes curled up on the couch with the “individual mandate” – instead of instantly beating it to death with a hammer – Gingrich is wrestling with a serious issue.  The existing health-care system, through its informal, inefficient “cost shifting,” does make everyone pay for everyone else’s health care.  The process is complex and largely invisible.  No one really knows what they pay for health care.  Forcing everyone to buy insurance is presented as a way to formally, visibly spread those health care costs more evenly and logically across the population.  Well, the taxpaying population.

Among the many reasons this “individual mandate” is doomed to failure is that it tries to disperse health care costs through compulsion.  Much will be required of those who provide the funding for America’s health care.  There will be strong penalties for disobedience.

Resolving these problems through greater freedom and individual choice is both morally correct, and more efficient.  We should have more control over our health care, not more mandates and regulations to comply with.  Mandates are the opposite of free choices.  They represent the further growth of a government in dire need of reduction.  The distance between patients and doctors should be reduced, not expanded to galactic dimensions by introducing the government as a middleman. 

We can make provisions for the indigent, and should be clear and honest about precisely what those provisions entail, and how much they will cost taxpayers.  Socializing those provisions through government mandates is just another way to hide their cost.

The Republican electorate wants an articulate champion who understands this, and is both outspoken and unambiguous in their opposition to the individual mandate – on both practical and philosophical levels.  This is not a delicate subject in need of extensive clarification.  Direct your Monday morning video messages to persuadable independents, not the Republican base, and use them to explain why you instantly beat the individual mandate to death with a hammer when it strolled into your network TV interview.