Medicare is a major issue in the fall election between President Obama and Republican candidate Mitt Romney. Obama explained his Medicare policies in his weekly radio address today while denouncing the GOP's voucher plans as a threat to seniors.
Obama said that he has proposed "reforms that will save Medicare money by getting rid of wasteful spending in the healthcare system and reining in insurance companies -- reforms that won't touch your guaranteed Medicare benefits."
While not mentioning him by name, Obama criticized Paul Ryan's proposal to change Medicare with vouchers that seniors can use to buy insurance on the private market. "One plan would force seniors to pay an extra $6,400 a year for the same benefits they get now," Obama said.
What the President fails to explain in his criticism of the Ryan plan is that 25% of seniors choose the voucher system today voluntarily because it offers them affordable healthcare. It's called Medicare Advantage. It allows seniors to trade their Original Medicare benefits for an HMO or PPO plans managed by private insurance.
The Medicare debate rocketed to the top of the political battle ground this month when Mitt Romney announced House Budget Committee chair Paul Ryan, R-Wis., as his running mate. Led by Ryan, the House GOP passed a budget proposal that would transitioning Medicare into a voucher system - something the president claims "would effectively end Medicare as we know it."
"I'm willing to work with anyone to keep improving the current system," Mr. Obama said, "but I refuse to do anything that undermines the basic idea of Medicare as a guarantee for seniors who get sick."
The GOP claims the willingness of the president to reach across the aisle to solve the looming Medicare budget crisis is not genuine. Delivering the Republicans' weekly address, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky claims that working across the aisle on Medicare is impossible because the president, as he puts it, is "missing in action."
"Together, we could fix entitlements," Paul said. "Even in an election year, I've offered to work with the president. I've called and written. I've ridden with the president on Air Force One and offered to help him build bridges, to repair our nation's infrastructure. But I've received no answer."
President Obama's radio address:
Hi, everybody. Over the last few weeks, there's been a lot of talk about Medicare, with a lot of accusations and misinformation flying around. So today I want to step back for a minute and share with you some actual facts and news about the program.
This week, we found out that, thanks to the health care law we passed, nearly 5.4 million seniors with Medicare have saved over $4.1 billion on prescription drugs. That's an average of more than $700 per person. And this year alone, 18 million seniors with Medicare have taken advantage of preventive care benefits like mammograms or other cancer screenings that now come at no extra cost.
That's progress. It means that seniors everywhere are getting the care they need for less. And if you have questions about what benefits you're entitled to, you can go to www.medicare.gov to find out.
This news is also a reminder of what's really at stake when we talk about the future of Medicare. It's not about overheated rhetoric at election time. It's about a promise this country made to our seniors that says if you put in a lifetime of hard work, you shouldn't lose your home or your life savings just because you get sick.
Over the last 47 years, millions of Americans have worked for that promise. They've earned it. And for many seniors, the care they've gotten through Medicare has made all the difference in the world.
Growing up as the son of a single mother, I was raised with the help of my grandparents. I saw how important things like Medicare and Social Security were in their lives. And I saw the peace of mind it gave them.
That's why, as President, my goal has been to strengthen these programs now, and preserve them for future generations. Because today's seniors deserve that same peace of mind. And the millions of Americans who are working hard right now deserve to know that the care they need will be available when they need it.
That's why, as part of the Affordable Care Act, we gave seniors deeper discounts on prescription drugs, and made sure preventive care like mammograms are free without a co-pay. We've extended the life of Medicare by almost a decade. And I've proposed reforms that will save Medicare money by getting rid of wasteful spending in the health care system and reining in insurance companies -- reforms that won't touch your guaranteed Medicare benefits. Not by a single dime.
Republicans in Congress have put forward a very different plan. They want to turn Medicare into a voucher program. That means that instead of being guaranteed Medicare, seniors would get a voucher to buy insurance, but it wouldn't keep up with costs. As a result, one plan would force seniors to pay an extra $6,400 a year for the same benefits they get now. And it would effectively end Medicare as we know it.
I think our seniors deserve better. I'm willing to work with anyone to keep improving the current system, but I refuse to do anything that undermines the basic idea of Medicare as a guarantee for seniors who get sick.
Here in America, we believe in keeping our promises -- especially to our seniors who have put in a lifetime of hard work and deserve to enjoy their golden years. That's what Medicare is all about. That's why we need to strengthen and preserve it for future generations. And as long as I have the honor of serving as your President, that's exactly what I'll do.
Thanks, and have a great weekend.