Gingrich’s ‘Principled Conclusion’ on the Individual Mandate Has Changed Over Time

By Lucas Zellers | December 9, 2011 | 10:22 AM EST

Republican presidential candidate, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich speaks during a business forum, Thursday, Dec. 8, 2011, in Greenville, S.C. (AP Photo/Rainier Ehrhardt)

( – Amid heightened scrutiny of his position on health care, Republican presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich admits that he has changed his mind about requiring individuals to purchase health insurance.

"In the 1990s, Newt and many other conservatives, such as the Heritage Foundation, proposed a mandate to purchase health insurance as the alternative to Hillarycare,” his campaign Web site states. “However, the problems (with Obamacare and Romneycare) caused Newt to come to the principled conclusion that a mandate to purchase health insurance was unconstitutional, unworkable and counterproductive to lowering the cost of healthcare.”

Gingrich’s campaign Web site calls Obamacare "an unprecedented and unconstitutional expansion of federal power," and it criticizes “Romneycare” for allowing “political considerations” and “special interests” to possibly influence minimum insurance standards.

But as far back as 1993, Gingrich advocated  the idea of “individuals having health insurance and being required to have health insurance, and I am prepared to vote for a voucher system which will give individuals on a sliding scale a government subsidy so it will ensure that everyone as individuals have health insurance.”

In 2005, Gingrich again supported an individual mandate: “My point to conservatives is that it’s a model of responsibility.  If I see someone earning over $50,000 a year who has made the calculated decision not to buy health coverage, I’m looking at someone who is absolutely as irresponsible as anybody who’s ever on welfare, because what they’ve said is (a), ‘I’m gambling that I won’t get sick,’ and (b), ‘I’m gambling that if I do get sick, I can cheat all my neighbors.

“I’m actually in favor of saying whatever the appropriate income level, you ought to either have health insurance, or you ought to post a bond. But we have no right in society to have a free-rider approach, if you’re well-off economically, to say, ‘we’ll cheat our neighbors.’”

In a May 15, 2011 interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” host David Gregory pressed Gingrich on “this idea of the individual mandate where you make Americans buy insurance if they don't have it.”

Gingrich criticized President Obama for “basically … trying to replace the entire insurance system, creating state exchanges, building a Washington-based model, creating a federal system. I believe all of us--and this is going to be a big debate--I believe all of us have a responsibility to help pay for health care… And, and I think that there are ways to do it that make most libertarians relatively happy. I've said consistently we ought to have some requirement that you either have health insurance or you post a bond... or in some way you indicate you're going to be held accountable.

GREGORY: But that is the individual mandate, is it not?

GINGRICH: It's a variation on it.

Gingrich described it as “a system which allows people to have a range of choices which are designed by the economy. But I think setting the precedent--you know, there are an amazing number of people who think that they ought to be given health care. And, and so a large number of the uninsured earn $75,000 or more a year, don't buy any health insurance because they want to buy a second house or a better car or go on vacation. And then you and I and everybody else ends up picking up for them. I don't think having a free rider system in health is any more appropriate than having a free rider system in any other part of our society.”

The following day, on May 16, Gingrich released a video declaring his complete opposition to Obamacare and federally mandated health insurance.

“I am completely opposed to the Obamacare mandate on individuals,” Gingrich said. “I fought it for two and half years at the Center for Health Transformation. You can see all the things we did to stop it at I am for the repeal of Obamacare and I am against any effort to impose a federal mandate on anyone because it is fundamentally wrong and I believe unconstitutional.”

Two months ago, during the eighth Republican presidential debate, Mitt Romney responded to accusations about the health care plan he enacted in Massachusetts by saying that the idea for an individual mandate had come from Gingrich. 

Gingrich denied it: “You did not get that from me,” he said, adding that the idea had come from the conservative Heritage Foundation and that he had only supported the idea in response to “Hillarycare.”

“Let me ask, have you supported in the past an individual mandate?” Romney asked Gingrich during the October debate.  “I absolutely did, with the Heritage Foundation against Hillarycare,” Gingrich replied.

One of the Heritage plan’s “central elements” was to “require all households to purchase at least a basic package of insurance, unless they are covered by Medicaid, Medicare, or other government health programs.”

The Supreme Court announced on November 14 that it will decided the constitutionality of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (better known as Obamacare), after conflicting ruling from federal appeals courts throughout the U.S.  Arguments in the case will be heard beginning in March of 2012 and a ruling is expected by June – a few months before the presidential election.

On January 31 of this year, Justice Roger Vinson of the U.S. District Court of Pensacola ruled the individual mandate was unconstitutional, since the federal government could not require a consumer to buy a product.  “The individual mandate exceeds Congress’ commerce power, as it is understood, defined, and applied in the existing Supreme Court case law,” Justice Vinson said in his ruling.

Two other similar lawsuits were filed in federal courts in Virginia and Michigan in 2010; both were dismissed by the judges.