GOP Debate: Romney Attacks Federal Employee Benefits; Santorum Promotes HSAs

During a Fox News debate in the battleground state of Ohio, Mitt Romney contrasts proposed cuts to Tricare to health benefits for other government employees, while Rick Santorum said of health savings accounts, “We need to expand them greatly.”

Here’s a transcript of the health care portions:

DAVID MCARTHUR, SMALL BUSINESS OWNER: You know, sir, and I thank you so much for that. But it’s his brothers. That’s his concern. You know, the [Department of Veterans Affairs] today is a nightmare. Just a nightmare to deal through to try and get any service out of them.

You know, [traumatic brain injury] victims wait. When they come home they wait six months for their first check. Again, please, sir.

MITT ROMNEY: Yes.

MCARTHUR: Please.

ROMNEY: Yes. I understand that the — the benefit recovery period, the time it takes to get benefits paid has been lengthened dramatically under this administration. And — and I’ve got a son who works in health care. He’s a doctor. He’s in residency.

And — and he works at the V.A. Hospital sometimes as part of his training. Then he works in regular hospitals. And he says, “You know, dad, the V.A. Hospital isn’t getting, you know, the same level of care and attention that sometimes exists in the private hospitals in the public hospitals.”

We need to recognize that those who served this country in our uniform have a special place in our hearts. And we have to care for them. And — and the American people feel that. No question in my mind but that they recognize that we have a huge obligation to those who served our country. And I certainly feel that way.

One of the things I can’t understand. Right now the president is cutting back on spending. And that’s something that has to happen. But he’s only cutting back in the military. He’s going after Tricare. Saying “OK, we’re going to — we’re going to raise the co-pays. We’re going to cut the benefits.” Why is it we go after military families?

Why isn’t he going after government workers that are represented by the big government unions? I think I know the answer. My view is we care for our soldiers. We care for our soldiers and — and their families first. That’s our responsibility as a nation.

MCARTHUR: Regulations, regulations, regulations. Right now, one of — the major one that’s killing us, sir, is health care. On Wednesday, our employees saw their new health care plan, 2012. The deductible went from $2,250 to $6,000.

People were mad. Tears were visible. Medical savings plans that mothers depend on were gutted. You say you’re going to eliminate “Obamacare,” but replace it with what?

RICK SANTORUM: Well, you mentioned — you’re talking about medical savings — you meant flexible spending accounts?

MCARTHUR: That’s exactly right.

SANTORUM: FSAs. FSAs are a great program, and you’re right, they were gutted. The Obama administration put a cap put on them. So here — it’s all the way President Obama focuses on things. It’s always about him micromanaging everything, dictating to people what they can — he doesn’t want people to have flexible spending accounts for them to meet their own health care needs! He wants to limit that and then shift the responsibility to government to tell you what health care plan everybody has to have!
That’s the fundamental shift that we’re seeing already starting to take place as “Obamacare” slowly is implemented, and eventually, we’ll have not only no flexible spending accounts, or very limited ones, but mandated benefits on everybody! And of course, your $6,000 plan …

MCARTHUR: (INAUDIBLE) can’t afford it.

SANTORUM: Yes, well, it’s right, unless you have something that I’ve worked on, and actually, you know, we’re here in Ohio and Governor Kasich and I were the authors of health savings accounts. And health savings accounts is an idea of high deductible but having the premium savings of the higher deductible go the employee in these accounts to help them meet the ordinary and necessary expenses.

Health savings accounts are growing in this country. They’re growing in popularity. We need to expand them greatly. We need to have transparency in pricing. We have to have transparency in the idea on — with respect to the quality of the provider that’s providing this care.

In other words, we need to do what you do, which is to go out and compete, go out and have 30 million — excuse me — 300 million consumers in America. That will drag down health care costs, not government regulation!