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Poor Newt: He Once Endorsed Universal Coverage

Newt Gingrich is catching grief, again, for some newly discovered statements about health care. But these statements are a bit different from the ones that created previous controversies. I’m genuinely interested to know whether Republicans consider them heretical – and, if so, why.

The statements come from a 2006 edition of “Newt Notes,” a newsletter published by the Center for Health Care Transformation, Gingrich's think tank. The comments had disappeared from public view until Brody Mullins and Janet Adamy of the Wall Street Journal found them, using a tool that retrieves old web pages. Here’s the key paragraph:

We agree entirely with Governor Romney and Massachusetts legislators that our goal should be 100% insurance coverage for all Americans. Individuals without coverage often do not receive quality medical attention on par with those who do have insurance. We also believe strongly that personal responsibility is vital to creating a 21st Century Intelligent Health System. Individuals who can afford to purchase health insurance and simply choose not to place an unnecessary burden on a system that is on the verge of collapse; these free-riders undermine the entire health system by placing the onus of responsibility on taxpayers.

The defense of the individual mandate and comments on Romney are what’s getting all the attention in Iowa right now. And I suppose that makes sense: While Gingrich’s past support of a mandate is old news, the specific praise for Romney and his plan appears to be new. But it’s a phrase in that first sentence that got my attention: “Our goal should be 100 percent insurance coverage for all Americans.”

That may not seem like a controversial statement. And it almost certainly was not in 2006, when Gingrich made it. Once upon a time, plenty of Republicans said everybody should have basic health insurance. They weren’t always sincere about it and, in many cases, they didn’t feel strongly about it. But they pledged fealty to the idea, if only because it was consistent with what most Americans told pollsters they think.

Today, by contrast, you don’t even hear Republicans paying lip service to the idea of universal coverage. They go on and on about their determination to get rid of the Affordable Care Act, but say almost nothing about what system they would create instead. 

That’s probably what Republican primary voters want to hear, as Sarah Kliff noted the other day. It's also consistent with what some health care reform critics, like Cato's Michael Cannon, have been saying for many years. (Cannon, a libertarian, established the "Anti-Universal Coverage Club" in 2007.) But the rest of the country might not feel the same way.