Obama, Romney debate sheds little light on healthcare issues

WASHINGTON Thu Oct 4, 2012 6:41pm EDT

President Barack Obama smiles during the first presidential debate with Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney (not pictured) in Denver October 3, 2012. REUTERS/Jim Bourg

President Barack Obama smiles during the first presidential debate with Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney (not pictured) in Denver October 3, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Jim Bourg

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama and his Republican challenger Mitt Romney agree that the $2.8 trillion U.S. healthcare system is broken, but neither candidate on Wednesday presented voters with a clear idea of how to fix it.

Their comments about Medicare, Medicaid and healthcare in general dominated more than one-quarter of a presidential debate and gave both candidates a chance to articulate their policies for an estimated 50 million viewers.

Healthcare is a top issue in the November 6 election. The U.S. healthcare system is the world's most expensive, with spiraling cost growth that has been blamed for keeping U.S. wages down, eroding retirement security of future seniors and ballooning the contribution of public health spending to the federal debt and deficits.

"I would be hard-pressed to think that anyone watching would come away with a clear sense, either of what each candidate would do, or what the implications of those policies would be," said Dr. Arthur Kellermann, a health policy expert at the Rand Corporation.

Both candidates spoke compassionately about people they had met who could not afford health insurance or needed care, either for themselves or their families.

But Romney shed little new light on his own reform agenda. Instead, he attacked Obama's healthcare law with shopworn Republican campaign themes. He repeated a claim - widely discredited by independent analysts - that the president would cut $716 billion from the Medicare program for the elderly and disabled.

The alleged cut is the savings Obama gleaned from increases in payments to Medicare's healthcare providers and which Romney's running mate, Wisconsin congressman Paul Ryan, included in his own budget proposal as chairman of the House of Representatives Budget Committee.

Obama allowed Romney's characterization to go unchallenged, saying that his healthcare reforms are modeled on the changes Romney oversaw in Massachusetts as state governor.

Romney also avoided a direct answer to whether he supports a Medicare "voucher" system, a charge that Democrats have made since the summer in an attempt to erode vital Republican support among older Americans.

"What I support is no change for current retirees and near retirees in Medicare, and the president supports taking $716 billion out of that program," said Romney, brushing off two attempts by moderator Jim Lehrer to get an answer on vouchers.

Romney would convert Medicare from a guaranteed benefit program to a system providing fixed voucher-like payments that beneficiaries could use to purchase coverage either from traditional Medicare or a private insurer.

Critics say that could leave beneficiaries vulnerable in coming years to rising out-of-pocket healthcare costs, including private insurance premiums, and endanger traditional Medicare by leaving it with the sickest people.

But Romney presented his plan as a menu of choices between "the current Medicare program or a private plan," without cost to beneficiaries.

Romney suggested Obama's healthcare reforms had failed to prevent healthcare cost increases that have occurred since the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act became law in 2010. The law does not come fully into force until 2014.

Obama responded: "Over the last two years, healthcare premiums have gone up, it's true, but they've gone up slower than any time in the last 50 years."

Government actuaries say healthcare spending is increasing at historically low rates of around 4 percent a year, but analysts attribute that mainly to the weak economy.

(Reporting by David Morgan; Editing by Marilyn W. Thompson and Eric Walsh)

We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/
Comments (4)
ProfBob wrote:
I wondered why Obama didn’t mention that what they call Obamacare is not what she wanted. He wanted a lower maximum on medical malpractice judgments but the lawyers’ lobby defeated it. He wanted a federal option in competition with the insurance companies but the insurance Company lobbyists defeated that. So we have multimillion dollar salaries in the insurance industry. America pays far more than any country for its healthcare but is raising 40 in the world in terms of quality of care by the World Health Organization.
If Romney won, it was because he sent out dreams with no ideas of how they would be enacted. He said he would close loopholes in the tax code by reducing tax deductions. Did he plan on eliminating charitable and religious deductions, home mortgage deductions, or what? Obama United and facts. But we are psychological rather than logical so dreams carry more weight than actuality. In November we will get what we deserve!

Oct 04, 2012 9:42am EDT  --  Report as abuse
jrj906202 wrote:
Both politicians aren’t going to tell Americans the truth.Govt worshipping,give me something for nothing,Americans, can’t handle the truth.We will just continue on our way to total bankruptcy and the Fed will print whatever is needed to cover the debts.The Dollar will bear the brunt of the bankruptcy.

Oct 04, 2012 11:30am EDT  --  Report as abuse
And, we did with Obamacare? In the famous words of the then Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, we won’t know what’s in the bill until we pass it, Hahaaaaaaaaaaaa.

Oct 04, 2012 11:43am EDT  --  Report as abuse
This discussion is now closed. We welcome comments on our articles for a limited period after their publication.

Pictures