Gingrich Was For Paul Ryan’s Medicare Plan Before He Was Against It

During an appearance on Meet the Press yesterday, 2012 presidential candidate and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) called Rep. Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) proposal to transform Medicare into a “premium support” system for future retirees “too big a jump” and suggested that the reform was tantamount to “right-wing social engineering.”

The comments come just weeks after Gingrich praised Ryan for being a “brave” “man of ideas.” Asked by Time’s Jay Newton-Small if he would have voted for the GOP budget, Gingrich responded, “Sure.” “I think it’s the first step,” he added. “You need an entirely new set of solutions.”

Under the Ryan proposal — which almost every Republican in the House supported — seniors retiring in 2022 would have to purchase coverage from an exchange of private plans with a “premium support” of approximately $8,000 and would no longer be able to enroll in traditional fee-for-service Medicare. In fact, Gingrich proposed a very similar plan in 1995, when Republicans sought to eliminate $270 billion dollars from Medicare over seven years. Seniors would have received a voucher for the value of the annual average benefits and bought insurance from a private insurance company — or traditional Medicare. The Hartford Courant described the proposal as “the most sweeping change in Medicare’s 30-year history,” saying that it would “end Medicare’s guarantee of providing a defined set of benefits.” “Instead, the government would guarantee a certain dollar amount and beneficiaries would be on their own to find the best bargain available,” the paper explained in July 1995. Gingrich himself described the reform as a “voucher“:

House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) promised Friday that congressional Republicans would devote all future savings from Medicare to assure the solvency of the imperiled health care program rather than to balance the federal budget.

And he challenged President Clinton to offer proposals “to save Medicare for a generation.”

Gingrich predicted that Congress would undertake a major reform of Medicare, offering other options to the current fee-for-service system. One alternative would be a voucher program, in which beneficiaries would choose among several competing private health plans. However, he pledged that “anyone who wants to” would be permitted to stay in the present system, which allows unrestricted choice of doctors and hospitals.

Such proposals have been disavowed by Henry Aaron, the academic who first coined and developed the term “premium support” — the concept upon which both the Gingrich and Ryan proposals are based. Aaron argues that the “gains from being able to choose among competing insurance plans have been exaggerated” and that the Affordable Care Act may push Medicare to use its leverage to effect change in the way health care is delivered.