Liberal health groups try to mop up for Obama, challenge Romney debate points

Liberal healthcare groups went on the offensive after Wednesday's first presidential debate, challenging Mitt Romney's statements while staying mostly silent on President Obama's perceived lackluster performance.

Wednesday night's debate was seen as a major boost for Romney, who even liberal analysts said had shone in comparison to a flat Obama.

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By the next morning, prominent liberal healthcare reform advocates had released lengthy statements challenging Romney for "breathtaking falsehoods" on the healthcare law, Medicare and Medicaid — highlighting a portion of the debate where Romney was seen as slightly defensive. 

"While pundits have largely agreed about who won the presidential debate based on style, it is clear who had the better healthcare facts," said Ron Pollack of Families USA, a group that supports the Affordable Care Act.

"Governor Romney's healthcare admissions, and certainly his breathtaking falsehoods and misleading comments, are not a recipe for improving our nation's healthcare system," he added.

Ethan Rome, executive director of the liberal group Health Care for America Now (HCAN), was even more insistent.

"Virtually every single thing Mitt Romney said about healthcare [last night] was a lie," Rome said in a statement.

Romney's campaign strongly denied the charges, circulating a long series of research memos attacking Obama's health policy and defending Romney's.

Healthcare issues consumed about one-quarter of Wednesday's debate, which focused on domestic policy.

At different points, Obama and Romney sparred on healthcare reform, on the GOP claim that it cut $716 billion in Medicare benefits, and on Romney's plan to block-grant Medicaid, the entitlement that provides health coverage for the poor and the disabled.

"I would like to take the Medicaid dollars that go to a state and say to a state, 'You're going to get what you got last year plus inflation,'" Romney said, describing his plan for the program. "'And then you [states] are going to manage your care for your poor in the way you think best.'"

Obama argued that this approach would amount to a "30 percent cut" to Medicaid, since the program's funding would no longer be open-ended, tied to enrollment based on need.

Liberal groups backed Obama on this point, charging that Romney's plan would cripple Medicaid and limit its beneficiaries. 

Romney's claims about "improving" the program are "beyond nonsense," said Pollack of Families USA.

"It is impossible to improve the program by cutting huge amounts of federal funds from the program," Pollack said. "The ultimate result is that millions of people inevitably will lose their health lifeline."

Romney also hit Obama with his attack that the healthcare law cut $716 billion from Medicare, a claim that has become a staple of the GOP challenger's stump speeches.

"The idea of cutting $716 billion from Medicare to be able to balance the additional cost of 'ObamaCare' is, in my opinion, a mistake," Romney said.

Obama responded by criticizing Romney's plan to partially privatize Medicare to increase its longevity.

He skipped a frequent Democratic retort that Romney's running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan (Wis.), placed the same $716 billion in Medicare cuts in several of his House budgets — something Pollack included in his statement Thursday.

Obama's health law "doesn't reduce benefits at all for seniors or people with disabilities, but it protects them by reducing insurance and pharmaceutical company waste," Pollack said.

"Ironically, ObamaCare in this respect is identical to a proposal by Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan, which Governor Romney now repudiates."

Pollack also took issue with Romney's claim that the healthcare law will deprive 20 million people of their insurance, saying the charge "deserves its own special place in the Chutzpah Hall of Fame."

"As the Congressional Budget Office found, under ObamaCare, health coverage would expand to over 30 million people who would otherwise be uninsured," Pollack said. "In contrast, under Governor Romney's current proposals, the number of uninsured would increase to 78 million people within a decade."

But Romney's campaign responded by saying Obama glossed over some healthcare details of his own.

Specifically, campaign memos challenged Obama's statements that "you keep your own insurance" under the Affordable Care Act, and that seniors would pay $6,000 more under Romney's Medicare plans.

The Congressional Budget Office has found that as many as 20 million Americans could lose their employer-sponsored health insurance as the healthcare law begins to provide alternatives, the campaign pointed out.

And a number of media fact-checkers have said that the $6,000 figure relates to estimates related to the 2011 Ryan budget, not Romney's proposals.

"From raising taxes and cutting Medicare, to rationing care and killing jobs, ObamaCare is bad law and bad policy," one Romney memo charged.