Gingrich Defends Medicare: ‘I Have Always Publicly Favored A Stronger Medicare Program’

During Monday night’s GOP presidential debate, Newt Gingrich defended his support for the 2003 Medicare Modernization Act (MMA), an unfunded expansion of Medicare that provided a drug benefit to seniors through Medicare Part D. Responding to Mitt Romney’s accusation that he lobbied Congress on behalf of paying health care clients, Gingrich retorted, “I have always publicly favored a stronger Medicare program”:

GINGRICH: I publicly favored Medicare Part D for a practical reason. That reason is simple. The U.S. government was not prepared to give people anything — insulin, for example. But they would pay for kidney dialysis. They weren’t prepared to give Lipitor but they would pay for open heart surgery. That’s a terrible way to run medicare. I’ll say this in Florida. I’m proud that I publicly advocated Medicare Part D. It saved lives. It’s run on a free enterprise model, includes health savings accounts and includes Medicare alternatives which gave people choices.

Romney pressed harder, arguing that Gingrich was “getting paid by health companies” that benefited from the prescription drug bill. “You then meet with Republican Congressmen and encourage them to support the legislation you can call it whatever you’d like,” he said. “You are being paid by companies at the same time you’re encouraging people to pass legislation which is in their favor,” Romney charged. Watch it:

Gingrich has long argued that by investing in prescription drug coverage, Medicare would “avoidable treatment and care” that could occur from “not covering the drugs.” In 2003, shortly after founding his for-profit Center for Health Transformation, Gingrich returned to Capitol Hill to deliver a powerful speech touting the Medicare Modernization Act and ultimately convinced conservative Republicans to support the bill 204-to-25. “Newt was critical to the passage of Medicare Part D,” recalls John Feehery, who was Speaker Dennis Hastert’s chief spokesman at the time.

Gingrich’s health care clients also benefited from his advocacy. As the New York Times reported last month, Gingrich “worked to ensure that it would cover new diabetes treatments sold by Novo Nordisk, a Danish drug company and a founding member of Mr. Gingrich’s center.” “According to a presentation by a Gingrich aide to health care executives in 2004, the center was ‘working to insure’ that Medicare covered insulin products manufactured by Novo Nordisk, and Mr. Gingrich planned to meet with members of Congress ‘to help them develop priorities’ on fighting diabetes.” The devices were ultimately covered by the government.

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) initially estimated that the MMA would add to the deficit by $395 billion between 2004 and 2013 and the actuaries at the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) now project that the program will cost the government $16.1 trillion “through the infinite horizon.” But ironically, Gingrich convinced Republicans to support the measure by appealing to their sense of fiscal responsibility. “If you are a fiscal conservative who cares about balancing the federal budget, there may be no more important vote in your career than one in support of this bill,” Gingrich wrote to lawmakers in a newspaper ope-ed.

ThinkProgress intern Fatima Najiy contributed to this report.