- - Friday, April 29, 2011

Former House speaker and presidential aspirant Newt Gingrich is a brilliant man and probably one of the most innovative thinkers of our time, who often provides a powerful voice for limited government and free Americans. That makes it all the more bizarre that he proposes tearing down the Obamacare leviathan and replacing it with his own massive Republican version.

In his masterful book “To Save America,” Mr. Gingrich rightly diagnoses many of America’s problems that are the direct result of the heavy hand of government. He offers numerous innovative solutions in areas such as welfare and education reform that empower the individual. Then he sets those conservative principles aside and tackles health care.

Mr. Gingrich notes that in the 2,409 pages of the Obamacare law, the word “require” appears 198 times. Yet in his own book, the same word appears with a higher frequency, 80 times in the 356 pages. Add words like “encourage,” “migrate,” “incentivize” and their variants, and Mr. Gingrich’s euphemistic requirements total 144. Mr. Gingrich may not like most of President Obama’s requirements - and neither do I - but he sure loves his own.

On the Gingrich road to universal health care are many stops in the nanny state. Despite claims of “[n]o mandates,” his so-called “pro-jobs, pro-growth” health care plan includes micromanaging elementary schools to assure they provide physical education classes five days a week, and he takes time to monitor school breakfasts and lunches and even vending machines. Mr. Gingrich evidently agrees with first lady and food cop Michelle Obama that the government, not parents, should decide what their children eat. The former speaker goes further in his praise of Mrs. Obama - who stands ready to regulate grade school bake sales - and her “Let’s Move” initiative, which, as commentator Michelle Malkin describes, expands government by “harnessing every major health bureaucracy in the federal government … to expand the East Wing’s reach into the personal health choices of American families.”

Are we to believe that big government by Mr. Obama is bad but big government by Mr. Gingrich is good?

Mr. Gingrich acknowledges that the fundamental flaw of our current third-party-payer health care system, particularly when government is the payer, is that it disempowers Americans and disincentivizes responsible behavior. He boldly declares earlier in the book that we need to shift fundamentally to a “replacement strategy” because “it will not be enough to simply try to reform failed bureaucracies. Instead, we must fundamentally replace them.” Then he proceeds to outline - it’s hard to make this stuff up - an 18-point reform plan to reduce fraud within the current fundamentally flawed system. He has some fine ideas, but at this point, it isn’t clear to me if Mr. Gingrich is running for chief actuary of Medicare or commander in chief of the United States of America.

Mr. Gingrich claims he’ll achieve “savings from better health.” Though it may be counterintuitive, his claims have, unfortunately, been disproved time and time again. Without proper health care, sadly, we die young of inexpensive causes such as infection and heart attacks. With advanced health care, we die old of expensive causes, including strokes, cancer and dementia. On a moral basis, we absolutely should pursue better health - as a physician, I’ve dedicated my life to it - but we can’t delude ourselves into thinking it saves taxpayers money.

Mr. Gingrich, who at the time of this writing does not have a medical license, is ready to “[m]igrate every doctor to best practices.” That same Washington-knows-best mindset led to the government’s 2009 declaration that women in their 40s no longer need screening mammography. Mr. Gingrich wants to encourage employers to provide health insurance that meets his standards of portability and encourage health plans that meet his standards for chronic-disease management. He actually praises President George W. Bush’s big-government half-trillion-dollar prescription-drug entitlement program, the largest expansion of Medicare in history, as a means to “shore up” the bankrupt program’s solvency.

To be fair, despite all these government-growing proposals, Mr. Gingrich’s plans are far better than Obamacare. He does, for example, champion proven reforms such as the health savings account (HSA), which empowers the patient and has been shown to reduce costs without sacrificing medical outcomes. These innovative consumer-directed solutions return power to the patient, where it belongs.

Mr. Gingrich rightly compares the health care sector with its overbearing government intrusion and runaway inflation to the consumer electronics industry, where the free market roars and falling prices and increasing quality are the norm. Sadly, he doesn’t seem to understand his own lesson. Apple Computers doesn’t need Mr. Gingrich’s 18-point plan to produce innovative iPhones. Vizio doesn’t need a Bureau of Television Busybodies to ensure that its high-definition televisions have brilliant pictures and low prices. These companies and thousands others like them answer to a higher power: a free and empowered American consumer.

The challenge for a brilliant man like Newt Gingrich, with all of his well-reasoned ideas on everything from elementary school vending machines to the complexities of the best medical practices, will be for him to put his trust in the American people. If he believes in freedom, he should allow citizens to become empowered consumers rather than beneficiaries of his central planning. Even if we assume for a moment that all of Mr. Gingrich’s micromanaging ideas are completely correct - and that’s a generous assumption - they will require a grand government central command to enact them. Sooner or later, someone without Mr. Gingrich’s brilliance will come along and assume those powerful levers of government. Wouldn’t it be far better to place that power with the American people, where it belongs?

The Obamacare leviathan must be torn down. Let’s not replace it with a big-government Republican version.

Dr. Milton R. Wolf, a Washington Times columnist, is a board-certified diagnostic radiologist and President Obama’s cousin. He blogs at miltonwolf.com.

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