Newt Gingrich told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer yesterday that uninsured Americans should receive health care coverage through charity organizations and “free clinics,” rather than government-sponsored programs. The former speaker of the House answered Blitzer’s question from Monday’s CNN/Tea Party debate about how the government should treat a 30-year-old uninsured man who needs months of intensive treatment:
GINGRICH: Historically, we had charity. We had places that say, if you are down on your luck, if you failed to be responsible, we will take care of you, but that doesn’t mean that you’re necessarily going to get a private room, that you’re necessarily going to get everything somebody would get who’s been prudent and who has taken care of themselves. [...] Yes, we’re going to make sure they’re taken care of, but they ought to understand that’s charity.
BLITZER: But that money should come from charitable organizations, not from taxpayers? Is that what you’re saying? [...]
GINGRICH: I would prefer to see it come from charitable organizations.
“Historically,” charity care couldn’t meet the needs of uninsured Americans who were priced out of coverage or denied a policy because of a pre-existing condition, requiring government to establish Medicare and Medicaid (and eventually the Children’s Health Insurance Program). In 1986, President Ronald Reagan signed the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act, forcing hospitals to provide uncompensated care to the uninsured. Today, the number of Americans without coverage continues to grow and 45,000 people die annually because they lack access to needed care. For Gingrich — who had relied on government subsidized coverage throughout his congressional career — to argue that government should outsource the task of keeping Americans healthy to charities (something they simply won’t have the capacity to do given the scope of the problem) is like saying that people should be punished with death if they are unfortunate enough to be poor or too lazy to purchase health care coverage.