The two spoke at length at Clinton's Global Initiative Health Care Forum, with Clinton asking Obama why he took on healthcare reform in the first days of his administration, when the economy was suffering its worst downturn since the Great Depression.
"Well, first of all, I think it's important to remember that healthcare is the economy," Obama said. "A massive part of our economy. And so the idea that somehow we can separate out the two is a fallacy."
Obama said the federal deficit is largely a result of "the fact that we have a hugely inefficient, wildly expensive healthcare system that does not produce better outcomes."
"And if we spent the same amount of money on healthcare that Canada or France or Great Britain did, or Japan, or any other industrialized country, with the same outcomes or better outcomes, that essentially would remove our structural deficit, which would then free up dollars for us to invest in early-childhood education and infrastructure and medical research and all the other things that can make sure that we're competitive and growing rapidly over the long term," he said.
Clinton -- who Obama dubbed "explainer-in-chief" after the former president made the case for Obama's policies in a speech at the Democratic National Convention in 2012 -- told the audience half of the U.S. deficit has "disappeared because of economic growth and the revenues [Obama] raised and the spending we cut. And you pretty much get rid of the rest of it if we just had a comparably expensive system to any other country."
Clinton promoted the fact that open enrollment for the Affordable Care Act begins Oct. 1.
After listing the changes in federal healthcare law already in effect, Obama said the open enrollment period will allow individuals who can't get healthcare through their employer to access healthcare through exchanges in the states at "drastically reduced premiums and costs."
"On top of that, what we're now doing is we're saying if with the better deal that you got you still can't afford it, we're going to give you tax credits to essentially subsidize your purchase of health insurance."
The two were introduced by former U.S. Secretary of State and U.S. first lady Hillary Clinton, who noted they share some traits.
"They are both left-handed," she said to laughter. "They both love golf, a game that does not often reciprocate the love they put into it. They both are fanatic sports fans and go to great lengths to be in front of the TV or on the side of the court or the field. They both are master politicians. Each of them has only lost one election. They are both Democrats. They have fabulous daughters. They each married far above themselves. And they each love our country."