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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Independent fact checkers have not been especially kind to Mitt Romney since Wednesday's first debate in Denver. But one of the candidate's claims was so far off the mark that he his own aides were compelled to correct him. And as NPR's Julie Rovner reports, the Obama campaign has noticed, too.

JULIE ROVNER, BYLINE: During what turned out to be a highly detailed discussion of health care, Romney let this claim slip in.

MITT ROMNEY: Number one, pre-existing conditions are covered under my plan.

ROVNER: By pre-existing conditions, Romney was talking about the ability for people who already have medical problems - diabetes, for example, or even something like allergies - to buy health insurance. Starting in 2014, the federal health law says insurance companies can no longer reject people with bad health histories, nor can they charge them more. That's already true in Massachusetts under the law Romney signed as governor. But, as President Obama pointed out at the debate, Romney's current plan wouldn't guarantee that same protection.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: That isn't what your plan does. What your plan does is to duplicate what's already the law.

ROVNER: President Obama is referring to a 1996 law, called HIPAA, that says once you have health insurance you can continue to purchase it, as long as there's no interruption in your coverage of more than 63 days. But Romney's plan wouldn't guarantee that people who don't have coverage now will be able to buy it. Top Romney advisor Eric Fehrnstrom said as much in the so-called spin room to several reporters right after the debate and again on Thursday on CNN.

ERIC FEHRNSTROM: The governor will repeal Obamacare and he will return to the states the power to control their own health care futures. Look, what works in Massachusetts may not work in Texas. It was wrong for the president to take the broad outlines of the Massachusetts plan and impose it as a dictate from Washington on every state in the nation.

ROVNER: That correction was gladly picked up by the Obama forces. At a rally yesterday in northern Virginia, President Obama took credit for one of the few times he actually called Romney out during the debate.

OBAMA: So Governor Romney was fact-checked by his own campaign.

(LAUGHTER)

OBAMA: That's rough. That's rough.

(APPLAUSE)

OBAMA: Even they know his plan would take away coverage for tens of millions of Americans.

ROVNER: This isn't the first time Romney has had to be walked back by his staff when it comes to health care. In recent weeks, he's misstated or switched positions on abortion and on Medicaid. But at 67 million viewers, this was by far the largest audience that's heard something different from what the candidate's position actually is.

Julie Rovner, NPR News, Washington.

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