Vice Presidential Candidates Discuss Medical Liability Reform, Health Care Costs in Debate
Vice President Dick Cheney and Democratic vice presidential nominee Sen. John Edwards (N.C.) on Tuesday in the first and only vice presidential debate "engaged in a broad way with the major questions facing the electorate," such as medical liability reform and health care costs, the Washington Post reports (Harris/Romano, Washington Post, 10/6). In the debate, held at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland and moderated by Gwen Ifill of PBS, the candidates had "distinct differences" on proposals for health care and other domestic issues, the Dallas Morning News reports (Leubsdorf/Gillman, Dallas Morning News, 10/6).
For a large part of the debate, the candidates focused on issues related to the war in Iraq and terrorism, but they also "traded generalities over how to combat AIDS" and implement medical liability reform, the Long Island Newsday reports (Metz/Riley, Long Island Newsday, 10/6). The candidates also "clashed" over whether policies implemented by President Bush have helped the economy or "left more people jobless or struggling to deal with rising health costs," the Post reports (Washington Post, 10/6).
Cheney said that the high number of "frivolous" medical malpractice lawsuits filed in the United States has led to increased malpractice insurance premiums. According to Cheney, Democratic presidential nominee Sen. John Kerry (Mass.) and other Senate Democrats have blocked a number of medical liability reform bills passed by the House, such as legislation that would have capped noneconomic damages and attorney fees in malpractice lawsuits.
Edwards, a former trial attorney, agreed that Congress should pass medical liability reform legislation but recommended different proposals (Dallas Morning News, 10/6). "We want to put more responsibility on the lawyers to have the case reviewed by independent experts to determine if the case is serious and meritorious before it can be filed," Edwards said, adding, "But we don't believe that we should take away the right of people" to file lawsuits.
Edwards also criticized Cheney for the record of the Bush administration on the economy and health care costs. He said, "Family incomes are down, while the cost of everything is going up. Medical costs are up the highest. ... Mr. Vice President, I don't think the country can take four more years of this kind of experience."
However, Cheney cited the passage of the new Medicare law and prescription drug benefit as a major accomplishment of the Bush administration. "We've got 40 million seniors who benefited from the reform of the Medicare system. The Democrats promised prescription drug benefits. For years they've run on that platform. They never got it done. The president got it done," he said (Washington Post, 10/6).
Edwards also promoted the Kerry health care plan, which he said Kerry would finance in part with the repeal of tax cuts for U.S. residents with annual incomes that exceed $200,000, and renewed his promise that Kerry would provide middle-class residents with tax credits to help cover the cost of health insurance. Cheney countered, "I think the Kerry-Edwards approach basically is to raise taxes and to give government more control over the lives of individual citizens. We think that's the wrong way to go" (Barabak/Finnegan, Los Angeles Times, 10/6).
According to the New York Times, the debate featured "two stylistically different but clearly accomplished politicians in an intense and often grim" exchange (Nagourney, New York Times, 10/6).
However, the debate "lost some momentum in its final half-hour" when the candidates focused more on domestic issues, such as health care, the Los Angeles Times reports. Andrew Kohut, director of the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, said, "I thought the fire went out of both of them when it came to domestic issues. There just isn't the emotional level when you are talking about prescription drugs or health care as compared to Iraq and the war on terrorism."
According to the Los Angeles Times, vice presidential debates in most cases have not influenced presidential elections, and "Tuesday's session did not produce a result so decisive that it was likely to break that pattern" (Brownstein, Los Angeles Times, 10/6). A complete transcript of the vice presidential debate is available online from the Commission on Presidential Debates. Audio of comments from Cheney and Edwards on medical liability reform and health care costs is available online in RealPlayer from PBS ("NewsHour with Jim Lehrer," PBS, 10/5).