Presidential debate: It always comes back to the ‘death panels’

Just what to do with the nation’s healthcare system has been argued time and again – but it always seems to come back to the “death panels.”

Such was the case at the debate in Denver on Wednesday night, when moderator Jim Lehrer asked the candidates whether Obamacare, one of the most contentious issues this election season, should be repealed.

Romney said it should, telling Lehrer that President Obama’s healthcare overhaul was too expensive for small businesses, that it cut funding for Medicare, and finally, that “it puts in place an unelected board that’s going to tell people ultimately what kind of treatments they can have.”

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Obama, looking at the camera for one of the few times thus far in the night, explained to the audience that his healthcare plan didn’t mean a government takeover.

“If you’ve got health insurance, it doesn’t mean a government takeover,” he said. “You keep your own insurance. You keep your own doctor. But it does say insurance companies can’t jerk you around.”

Costs will be reduced because people without insurance can buy into a group plan where prices are lower than if they buy from insurance companies, which have higher administrative costs and profits, Obama said.

Massachusetts, where Romney served as governor, was a good model of how people could be covered without destroying jobs, he added.

Romney, in response, said he liked how healthcare reform was passed in Massachusetts, emphasizing the bipartisan nature of the bill (he spoke often on Wednesday about his successes in reaching across the aisle as governor). It didn’t force businesses to cut jobs, he said, something he predicts Obamacare will do.

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Massachusetts didn’t raise taxes or slash Medicare, he said – and that’s when he brought up the healthcare boards that Sarah Palin and other critics dubbed death panels when they were trying to stop Congress from passing Obamacare.

“We didn’t put in place a board that can tell people what treatments they’re going to receive,” Romney said.

That board, Obama responded, consists of healthcare experts who will “figure out how we can reduce the costs of care in the system overall.” They won’t choose what kind of treatment people could receive, he added.

But Romney wouldn’t drop it.

“We don’t need to have a board of 15 people telling us what kind of treatments we should have,” he insisted in his rebuttal.

“This board can’t make decisions about what treatments are given,” Obama said, trying to finally get past the healthcare boards by criticizing Romney for not saying how he would replace Obamacare.

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