Although none of the undecided voters asked either President Barack Obama or GOP nominee Mitt Romney about healthcare specifically, the debaters made brief mention of it in the second presidential debate Tuesday night.
The issue first arose, in fact, from a question about how the candidates would rectify the women’s pay inequality problem.
“You know a major difference in this campaign is that Governor Romney feels comfortable having politicians in Washington decide the healthcare choices that women are making,” Obama said. “I think that's a mistake. In my healthcare bill, I said insurance companies need to provide contraceptive coverage to everybody who is insured. Because this is not just a health issue, it's an economic issue for women.”
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Obama continued that “Governor Romney not only opposed it, he suggested that in fact employers should be able to make the decision as to whether or not a woman gets contraception through her insurance coverage.”
Continuing his attack on the broader matter of healthcare, Obama said that when Republicans wanted to repeal Obamacare, Romney indicated it was the first thing he would do, “Despite the fact that it's the same healthcare plan that he passed in Massachusetts and is working well.”
Before answering the next question, Romney rebutted that, “I'd just note that I don't believe that bureaucrats in Washington should tell someone whether they can use contraceptives or not. And I don't believe employers should tell someone whether they could have contraceptive care of not,” he said. “Every woman in America should have access to contraceptives. And the president's statement of my policy is completely and totally wrong.”
Later, while answering a question about how he differentiates himself from President George W. Bush, Romney discussed championing small business, and used it to segue into healthcare.
“The thing I find the most troubling about Obamacare – well, it's a long list, but one of the things I find most troubling is that when you go out and talk to small businesses and ask them what they think about it, they tell you it keeps them from hiring more people,” Romney said. “My priority is jobs. I know how to make that happen.”
Obama pointed out that, “George Bush didn't propose turning Medicare into a voucher,” he said. “George Bush never suggested that we eliminate funding for Planned Parenthood.”
Answering a question posed by an attendee who voted for Obama in 2008 about what he’s done to deserve a second term, Obama began by making reference to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. “I said that we would put in place healthcare reform to make sure that insurance companies can't jerk you around and if you don't have health insurance, that you'd have a chance to get affordable insurance, and I have,” he said.
In response to which, Romney took aim at the entitlement programs. “He said he would have by now put forward a plan to reform Medicare and Social Security, because he pointed out they're on the road to bankruptcy. He would reform them. He'd get that done,” Romney said. “He hasn't even made a proposal on either one.”
Romney also brought out the argument that health insurance premiums have risen by $2,500 per family under Obamacare – a claim that has been debunked. The average increase is $1,975 but that’s a total for employees and employers and, in reality, the increase paid by employees hasn’t changed nearly that much. “And if Obamacare is passed, or implemented, it's already been passed, if it's implemented fully,” Romney continued, “it'll be another $2,500 on top.”
Wednesday night’s debate took place at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y. The third and final debate is slated to take place at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Fla. on Oct. 22, where the candidates will tackle foreign policy.