Newt Gingrich, who considers himself  a “top prospect” for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination, was in Raleigh this week. He’s been here before.
Five years ago, Newt blew into Raleigh  to talk at the Emerging Issues Forum about health care reform (for a $40,000 speaking fee and with substantial corporate sponsorship). What pearls of wisdom did solon Newt bequeath lowly North Carolinians, many of whom make only $40,000 a year? Well, his main idea was to split up and privatize (“voucherize”) Medicaid, NC health program for low-income people.
Newt’s crystal ball was a little hazy on this point. Three more years of the Bush Administration didn’t dismantle the Medicaid program and now health reform strengthens it by expanding Medicaid to be the first real health care safety net Americans have ever had. Being poor and losing everything at least means you won’t lose the ability to go to the doctor if you get sick.
The polishing cloth could have come out for Newt too on his other bromide that day: “The real problem with the uninsured comes from people at the higher incomes who choose not to have coverage.” Whoops! While health reform does require people to buy coverage (score one here for Newt), after a year of health reform debate, most people realize the real problem is that people either are charged outrageous prices by insurance companies because of pre-existing health conditions, or work in a small business that can’t afford 30% rate hikes every two years, or just don’t make enough to pay average $500/mo premiums.
The discussion in 2005 shows just how far we’ve come in 2010 in the public understanding of how health insurance companies and health care don’t work in our country. Thankfully, we ignored Gingrich’s more radical ideas and chose a middle course on reform where we kept the private health insurance system but increased regulation and strengthened the public safety net to set floors and guarantee coverage. Newt may be a top prospect, at least in his own mind, but at least his crazier health care ideas are consigned to the bench.