Blog: What role will healthcare play in first debate?

“Debates are what make America great,” Johnny Carson said on The Tonight Show 28 years ago this month. “The candidates stand before their electorate and reporters ask hard-hitting questions, and it's up to the people to decide which one evaded them more skillfully.”

We'll have our first chance to do that in this election cycle tonight, as President Barack Obama and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney will match up at the University of Denver for the first of three presidential debates this month. On Tuesday, lawmakers and health policy experts prepared for healthcare to feature prominently in that discussion.

In a call with reporters, Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) and former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm centered on women's health and equal pay for women. Granholm said she expects “zero details” from Romney about his plan for the future, even though American women and their families deserve more than “vague platitudes.”

Wasserman Schultz, a breast cancer survivor, said women now have access to preventive services such as mammograms and birth control because of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the president's most notable domestic policy achievement.

“When we passed Obamacare, and when the Supreme Court upheld it this summer, it was personal for me,” said Wasserman Schultz, who underwent seven surgeries as part of her treatment. “When they talk about repealing, I take that personally, too,” she said, referring to the Romney-Ryan ticket's pledge to overturn the landmark 2010 law. “They are asking women to go back to the days when women couldn't afford the coverage they needed,” she said, adding, “As this debate takes place during Breast Cancer Awareness month, that's not acceptable.”

Meanwhile, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and the House Democratic Steering and Policy Committee hosted a hearing on Capitol Hill—unusual during Congress' seven-week recess—to examine the consequences of Rep. Paul Ryan's (R-Wis.) budget and how it would affect the Medicare guarantee. Also Tuesday, a panel of three economists from the conservative American Enterprise Institute—including J.D. Kleinke, who has advised hospitals and physicians to prepare for Medicare modernization and has written three books on healthcare, including Oxymorons: The Myth of a U.S. Health Care System—previewed some of the topics they expect the candidates will address tonight.

Like many of you, I will watch tonight's debate to learn what the two candidates have to say about their plans to address the country's healthcare problems. What do you hope to hear from them? Please let me know at, and also be sure to read our coverage of this debate at Rich Daly and I will also cover the other debates that include any discussion of domestic policy. Those are the vice presidential debate between Vice President Joe Biden and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) from Centre College in Danville, Ky., on Oct. 11, and the second presidential debate between the president and Romney at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y. on Oct. 16.

You can follow Jessica on Twitter @MHJZigmond.



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