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Is health care a 'privilege' for some?

From NBC's Domenico Montanaro
The president may be holding a health-care summit today at the White House, in an effort to cull ideas for health-care reform, but some Republicans are making it clear they aren't going to stand for it.

Zach Wamp, the always self-assured Tennessee congressman, was on MSNBC this morning, railing against any health-care reform effort, calling it a move toward "socialism" and that Obama was engaging in almost "class warfare."

Video: Rep. Zach Wamp discusses President Obama's health-care summit with MSNBC's Tameron Hall.  

Wamp went so far as to say, "Health care is a privilege," before clarifying that he meant, "It's not necessarily a right" for those who choose not to pay for health care. He asserted that of the 47 million uninsured, half opt out of their employer's provided health care.

"It's probably the next major step towards socialism," Wamp began. "I hate to sound so harsh, but.... this literally is a fast march towards socialism, where the government is bigger than the private sector in our country and health care's the next major step, so we oughta all be worried about it." 
 
He compared Obama's reform effort to what "Mrs. Clinton" tried to do "a number of years ago." (That's despite the White House's efforts to appear very different in its approach by inviting a multitude of voices, including Republicans and insurers, to the table at today's health-care summit.)

Wamp added a thinly veiled "redistribution of wealth" argument, saying that the president wants to take money from those who already have health care to pay for those that don't have it.

"Listen, the 45 million people that don't have health insurance -- about half of them choose not to have health insurance...," Wamp said before issuing these warnings: "If you're on Medicare, beware. If you're a small businessperson, he [Obama] proposes to take away your deductions for charitable contributions, for your mortgage deduction on your home, in order to pay for health care. So, if you're one of those people who choose not to have health insurance, maybe you will have health insurance. But if you're one of those people that currently have health care, maybe they're going to take a benefit from you to pay for getting it to the other people. So, this is almost class warfare, in order for him to be able to say, 'Everyone now has health care.'"

Then he added, "Listen, health care is a privilege" (about 3:09 into the video.)

MSNBC Anchor Tamron Hall interjected. "It's a privilege? Health care? If you have cancer right now, do you see it as a privilege to get some treatment?" she asked.

"I was just about to finish to say, that for some people it's a right," Wamp said, "but for everyone, frankly, it's not necessarily a right. Some people choose not to pay."

Asked who is not entitled to health care, Wamp responded, "An employee who rejects the health care provided by their employer 'cause they don't want any of the money deducted from" their pay check. He again insisted, "Half the people today choose to remain uninsured. Half of them don't have any choice, but half of them choose to, what's called, 'Go naked.' And just take a risk of getting sick. They end up in the emergency room, costing you and me a whole lot more money. How many illegal immigrants are in this country today, getting our health care? Gobs of 'em."

But isn't the emergency room point exactly one of the arguments FOR reforming health care?

Wamp said the GOP is for "extending health care to the people that need it, not turning the whole health-care system over to the government." And he added that any solution should be "through the tax code; you give incentives for people to have health insurance."

But Obama is not proposing a single-payer system that would turn "health care over to the government," as the congressman suggested.

Later on MSNBC, former Senior Health Care Adviser to Bill Clinton Chris Jennings said Wamp's comments are just "their talking points every time the debate over health care comes up."

He added that Obama is not suggesting getting rid of employer-based health care, and it's a fallacy to suggest otherwise.

"I don't see how anyone can read that as anywhere close to socialism," Jennings said. "Most people outside the very far right wing of the Republican party agree with that. … There's an attempt to throw fear-mongering into this debate, because" Republicans don't have any "policy ideas."

The White House also took exception.

"If you go around the country, you won't hear many people saying, 'I don't want health care,'" a White House source said, adding that the point of today's summit, in fact, is to bring together people with varying views on the issue. "Now is the time to reform health care," the source said, "No one says, 'We agree with everything.' …We welcome voices from all sides of the spectrum."