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"A large number of the uninsured earn $75,000 or more a year."

Newt Gingrich on Sunday, May 15th, 2011 in in an interview on NBC's "Meet the Press"

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When Newt Gingrich appeared on NBC's Meet the Press on May 15, 2011, the conversation turned to health care. Host David Gregory asked if Gingrich had been inconsistent about the role of the federal government in health care because in 1993 he said he supported an individual mandate, a requirement that everyone have health coverage. Lately, the mandate has been the most controversial aspect of the health care law passed last year.

Polls show the individual mandate remains unpopular with the public. Some opponents of health care reform oppose the mandate on the grounds that it gives the government too much power over health care decisions. There's also some disagreement among those who support health care reform about whether a mandate is necessary to reach near universal coverage. Insurance companies, though, say it's necessary if insurers are required to insure everyone regardless of pre-existing conditions. The mandate is currently being challenged in the federal court system.

Gingrich said there was a difference from what he said eight years ago because Obama "basically is trying to replace the entire insurance system, creating state exchanges, building a Washington-based model, creating a federal system."

Still, Gingrich didn't exactly back away from his previous position. "I agree that all of us have a responsibility to help pay for health care. And I think that there are ways to do it that make most libertarians relatively happy. I have said consistently we ought to have some requirement, you either have health insurance or you post a bond, or in some way, you indicate you're going to be held accountable," Gingrich said.

(The day after the show, Gingrich issued a video statement clarifying that he is "completely opposed to the Obamacare mandate on individuals. ... I'm against any effort to impose a federal mandate on anyone, because it is fundamentally wrong and, I believe, unconstitutional.")

On the show, Gingrich expounded a bit on the problem of "free riders" -- people who go without insurance on the assumption that they'll still receive care if an unexpected emergency happens.

"A large number of the uninsured earn $75,000 or more a year (and) don't buy any health insurance because they want to buy a second house or a better car or go on vacation, then you and I and everybody else ends up picking up for them," Gingrich said. "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."

We were interested in checking Gingrich's statement that "a large number of the uninsured earn $75,000 or more a year." When politicians talk of the uninsured, it often conjures images of people who cannot afford health coverage. But Gingrich's point was that people who are relatively affluent are choosing not to have coverage.

Why they choose not to have coverage is a complicated question, though. There's at least anecdotal evidence that even well-off people have problems finding an insurance company willing to sell them a policy if they have pre-existing conditions, even minor ones.

Here, though, we wanted to see if Gingrich was right about the numbers. So we consulted the latest version of "Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States," an annual publication from the U.S. Census that creates detailed estimates of the national population and its health insurance status.

In 2009, the most recent year for which statistics are available, the Census Bureau estimated that there were 50.7 million uninsured people in the United States, or about 17 percent of the total population.

Among the uninsured, about 10.6 million made $75,000 or more. That number is about 21 percent of all the uninsured.

Among the rest of the uninsured, the income brackets are as follows:

¥ Less than $25,000: 15.5 million, or about 31 percent;

¥ $25,000 to $49,999: 15.3 million, or about 30 percent;

¥ $50,000 to $74,999: 9.4 million, or about 18 percent.

In ruling on Gingrich's statement, he said that a "large number" of people make $75,000 or more and don't have insurance. The actual number is 10.6 million, and they constitute 21 percent of all the uninsured. There's some wiggle room in what exactly Gingrich meant by "a large number" Certainly they do not constitute the majority of all uninsured, but they do make up a significant minority of the uninsured. And so we rate Gingrich's statement True.

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About this statement:

Published: Tuesday, May 17th, 2011 at 1:39 p.m.

Subjects: Health Care


Meet the Press, Interview with Newt Gingrich, May 15, 2011

Newt Gingrich YouTube channel, statement on the mandate, May 16, 2011

U.S. Census, Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2009, page 26

Researched by: Angie Drobnic Holan

Edited by: Bill Adair