Health Issues Create Political Flashpoints During GOP Presidential Primary Debate

GOP candidates sparred during last night's face-off over a range of issues including the Massachusetts health law that Mitt Romney signed while that state's governor, family planning and contraception, and abortion.

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Trading Fiery Charges, Romney And Santorum Go At It In 20th Debate Of Republican Fight
The most animated clash of the evening focused on health care in the United States. Santorum said that Romney had used government money to "fund a federal takeover of health care in Massachusetts," a reference to the state law that was enacted during Romney's term as governor. The law includes a requirement for individuals to purchase coverage that is similar to the one in Obama's landmark federal law that Romney and other Republicans have vowed to repeal. In rebuttal, Romney said Santorum, a former Pennsylvania senator, actually bore responsibility for passage of the health care law that Obama won from a Democratic-controlled Congress in 2010, even though he wasn't in office at the time. Romney said that in a primary battle in 2004, Santorum had supported then-Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, who later switched parties and voted for the law Obama wanted (2/22).

Los Angeles Times: Romney Seeks To Undercut Santorum On Spending In GOP Debate
Wrestling for the front-runner's mantle in the Republican presidential race, Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney clashed fiercely Wednesday night over their conservative credentials and their past support of earmarks as the four GOP candidates met for the first debate in nearly a month. … Gingrich attacked Romney for requiring religious hospitals to provide rape victims with emergency contraception, a stance Romney said he did not take. And Paul took a shot at Santorum for voting to fund a federal program that provides family-planning health care to the poor, partly through Planned Parenthood (Reston and Mehta, 2/22).

Boston Globe: Santorum, Romney Square Off In Debate
When the discussion turned to birth control, the candidates all pounced on President Obama for recently enacting a rule, which he has since changed, that required religiously affiliated organizations to use health insurance plans that provide coverage for contraception. ... Santorum also criticized Romney for enacting Massachusetts' universal health care law. "It would be a difficult task for someone who had the model for ObamaCare, which is the biggest issue in this race of government in control of your lives, to be the nominee of our party,"’ he said (Levenson and Viser, 2/23).

The Wall Street Journal: Santorum Draws Fire In Fight For GOP Lead
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney sought Wednesday to portray Rick Santorum's 16-year career in Congress as a betrayal of conservative principles, using a televised debate to try to define his top rival at a moment when many voters are paying new attention to the former senator. … For his part, Mr. Santorum criticized Mr. Romney for shepherding, as Massachusetts governor, a state health care law that he said became the model for President Barack Obama's health law. He said Mr. Romney deserved little credit for balancing the Massachusetts budget, because doing so was a state requirement (Hook and O’Connor, 2/23).

The Hill: GOP Candidates Spar Over Government's Role In Americans' Sex Lives
All four Republican presidential candidates criticized the Obama administration's birth control mandate during Wednesday night's debate but sharply disagreed over government's proper role on the issue of sex. Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum defended earlier remarks about "the dangers of contraception," saying he was concerned with sexual activity among young Americans. "What we're seeing is a problem in our culture with respect to children being raised by children, children being raised out of wedlock, and the impact on society," he said. "We have a problem in this country. The family is fracturing" (Pecquet, 2/22).

Kaiser Health News: Testy Santorum, Romney Tussle Over Mass. Health Reform (Video Clips)
In the last scheduled Republican debate, candidates Rick Santorum, Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul attacked the Obama administration on its birth control stance. Santorum dovetailed the issue into an attack of the 2006 Massachusetts health reform law, which Romney, as governor, endorsed (2/23).

Meanwhile, National Journal offers a pair of stories analyzing how birth control and contraception issues are playing -  

National Journal: Birth Control A Winning Issue For Dems, Poll Shows
More than half of American voters – 54 percent – approve of President Obama's compromise that would have insurance companies pay for birth control for employees of religious-affiliated institutions, according to the latest Quinnipiac University national poll, released on Thursday. Just 38 percent said they disapproved, the telephone poll of 2,605 registered voters found. The survey, conducted last week at the height of the controversy over the new policy, suggests that Democrats have the upper hand in defining the issue as one of women’s health, as opposed to Republican efforts to frame it as religious freedom (Fox, 2/23).

National Journal: Women To Congress: Contraception Conversation Isn't Over
When Georgetown Law student Sandra Fluke was denied the opportunity to testify before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee last week, outraged Democrats and activists cried that a woman’s voice has been silenced on an issue that pertains to women’s health. But the conversation is far from over. Silence was not a symptom of a Wednesday evening panel discussion turned activist planning meeting, where Fluke and over two dozen women began to devise plans to make their voice heard in the contraception conversation (Belogolova, 2/22).

And The New York Times and Reuters offer other takes on policies being advanced on the campaign trail –

The New York Times: The Caucus Blog: Study Finds Mixed Results In GOP Candidates' Plans For Federal Debt
All four would repeal the 2010 health care law, which would not save much money since the law includes spending cuts and tax increases to offset expanded insurance coverage. All would shrink federal workforce costs. And they would cut and cap spending for Medicaid and other safety-net programs and turn those programs into block grants to the states (Calmes, 2/23).

Reuters: Listen Up Voters, Congress Is Messaging You
The administration's health care plan is certain to generate message voting as Republicans try to keep focus on it in 2012. The Republican campaign committee has already targeted some Democrats with Internet ads featuring a gathering storm as the narrator talks about "a cloud over our economy" created by what critics call "Obamacare." Both sides accuse the other of self-serving "message votes," while insisting they are driven by policy, not politics (Ferraro and Smith, 2/22).

This is part of Kaiser Health News' Daily Report - a summary of health policy coverage from more than 300 news organizations. The full summary of the day's news can be found here and you can sign up for e-mail subscriptions to the Daily Report here. In addition, our staff of reporters and correspondents file original stories each day, which you can find on our home page.