By Katherine Hobson
Newt Gingrich, now officially a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, is staking out some of his positions on the divisive issue of health-care overhaul.
As the WSJ reports, the former Speaker of the House dismissed the plan to rejigger Medicare put forth by the current GOP House majority as "right-wing social engineering," while also endorsing the individual mandate to buy insurance that is vilified by critics on the right.
The Medicare plan spearheaded by Rep. Paul Ryan would essentially replace the government insurance plan with vouchers to help seniors purchase private coverage. (The change would apply only to Americans aged 55 and under.) But the value of those vouchers would rise only as fast as overall consumer inflation, which has been outpaced by the rise in health-care costs for years. And that, critics say, would leave beneficiaries on the hook for rising health costs.
Gingrich said on NBC's "Meet the Press" that he doesn't endorse imposing such a "radical change," instead preferring to persuade seniors to adopt a new Medicare system voluntarily.
And in an interview with the WSJ, he reiterated his past support of the individual mandate -- which has become the subject of lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of the health-care overhaul law -- saying that without it people may not buy coverage until they need it, straining the system. "All of us have a responsibility to help pay for health care," he said.
Still, Gingrich is not a fan of the overall Obama health-care plan, calling it a "Washington-based model, a federal system" that attempts to replace the existing insurance system.
Health care is likely to continue to be a hot issue in the 2012 presidential campaign, given the ongoing debate about the health-care overhaul law and the role that Medicare and other entitlement programs play in the budget-deficit discussion.
Last week Medicare trustees estimated that the insurance program's trust fund, which covers inpatient costs, will likely be exhausted by 2024, earlier than previously thought. And they said that the long-term outlook for the trust fund and Medicare Part B, which covers physicians' services, is based on assumptions that are "highly uncertain."