Gingrich Says He Doesn't Regret Supporting Medicare Drug Plan Which Is Now a $7.2 Trillion Unfunded Liability

By Nicholas Ballasy | March 18, 2011 | 2:32pm EDT

( -- Former House Speaker New Gingrich (R-Ga.), a likely 2012 presidential candidate, told today that he does not regret supporting the enactment of the Medicare prescription drug plan which now presents the federal government with a $7.2 trillion unfunded liability.

An unfunded liability is a benefit the federal government has promised to pay that is not matched by tax revenue to fund it and thus represents an anticipated increase in the national debt.

Gingrich was no longer a member of Congress when he supported passage of the drug plan in 2003, but was a high-profile advocate of its enactment--writing op-eds and giving interviews vigorously arguing that it was good legislation.

Gingrich said today that for the federal government to fund medical procedures such as kidney dialysis for seniors, but not drugs such as insulin--something the federal government did not do until after the 2003 law was passed--would be "an utterly anti-human provision."

At a press conference on Friday, asked Gingrich, “You were a prominent supporter of the Medicare prescription drug plan that President Bush signed into law in 2003. The Medicare trustees now say that plan is $7.2 trillion in unfunded liabilities over the next 75 years. Do you regret your support for the plan looking back?”

“No," said Gingrich. "I think that we--I mean, I am for dramatic reform of Medicare. I chaired the Medicare reform task force which saved it in 1996 when the trustees said it was going to go broke, and we passed changes which enabled them to say that we had postponed any problem for well over a decade.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. (AP Photo/Bill Haber)

“And I’m very prepared to talk about how to reform Medicare and make it economically viable,” he said. “But I feel strongly that the number one purpose of health care is health, and Medicare was designed in the 1960s when pharmaceutical drugs were not a significant part of how you took care of people.

“And for us to have a government-run health plan that said we’re not going to help you with insulin but we’ll be glad to pay for kidney dialysis is an utterly anti-human provision,” he said. “And so all I was in favor of was modernizing the system to recognize modern medicine.”

Gingrich made his remarks at the National Press Club at an event sponsored by the Center for Health Transformation, an organization he founded.

Gingrich, who said he believed the new health care law, Obamacare, would be repealed by 2013, further said, “We spend $29 billion a year now, $27 billion a year now in kidney dialysis. So my counter, in part, would be the right application of modern medicine for the right prevention, the right wellness and the right management of chronic conditions actually makes the system much less expensive but means you’ve got to take the totality.”

“If all you do is count the cost of insulin, then it’s an increase,” he said. “If you count the ability to avoid or defer kidney dialysis, it’s an enormous improvement--and I think we have to look at the system from that standpoint.”

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