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Obama and Romney chat after the debate.
Obama and Romney chat after the debate.
Photo credit: AP

Healthcare leaders weigh in on presidential debate


By Jessica Zigmond
Posted: October 4, 2012 - 3:15 pm ET
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Pollsters, think tank analysts and healthcare interest groups on Thursday dissected the performances of President Barack Obama and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who spent a good portion of their first presidential debate Wednesday explaining how they would tackle the nation's healthcare problems.

Families USA, a liberal healthcare consumer group and champion of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, accused Romney of “breathtaking falsehoods and misleading statements” in a written statement from Ron Pollack, the organization's executive director. Pollack challenged Romney's statement that the former governor proposes no cutbacks for current beneficiaries, saying his plan to repeal the Affordable Care Act would cut prescription drug costs for seniors and eliminate free preventive services, such as check-ups, mammograms and colonoscopies.

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“When asked how he would replace Obamacare, he admitted—and his campaign spokesperson, Eric Fehrnstrom, confirmed—that people with pre-existing health conditions would only be protected from insurance company coverage denials if they had continuous health coverage in the past,” Pollack said in his statement. “As a result, the millions of people who were previously denied coverage due to pre-existing health conditions (such as asthma, diabetes, cancer) would be left out in the cold.”

Pollack also criticized Romney's plan to transform the Medicare program for future generations of seniors. Describing the premium-support concept—which vice presidential nominee and House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) laid out in his last two budgets—Pollack said a government voucher would pay a portion of private insurance premiums and leave seniors to pick up the remaining costs. “As the value of the government vouchers covers smaller and smaller portions of insurance premiums, seniors would pay more and more,” Pollack said in his statement. “Increasingly, Medicare would become unaffordable.”

But analysts at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank on Capitol Hill, said the premium-support model is no more a voucher than is current law. “It just says government will pick up a big part of the tab for your health insurance, and if you want to spend more, then you pay the difference,” analysts Alyene Senger and J.D. Foster said in a statement. “It is exactly what happens today under Medicare Advantage.”

A spokeswoman for the American Hospital Association said the group would not comment on the debate. The American Academy of Family Physicians weighed in, as Dr. Glen Stream, the group's president, said the candidates' remarks indicate progress in the country's efforts to improve both care and access for all Americans. But Stream said Obama and Romney missed an opportunity to discuss the way Medicare reimburses doctors who participated in the program.

“We're disappointed that neither candidate addressed the flawed sustainable growth rate formula,” Stream said in his statement. “This failed formula jeopardizes elderly and disabled Americans' access to needed healthcare and is unsound fiscal policy for the Medicare program.”

Meanwhile, American public opinion pollster John Zogby—a senior analyst at survey research firm JZ Analytics and also a senior adviser at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government—identified the former governor as the big winner in the debate. “Romney displayed a mastery of the economy, of small business, of healthcare, of taxes—of all issues,” Zogby said in a news release. “He was aggressive, something that was deemed risky beforehand, but he did not get personal or mean. He was respectful to the sitting president, but in no way awed by his presence.”


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