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Mitt Romney, Obama camp spar on Medicare plans

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney writes on a white board as he talks about Medicare during a news conference Thursday in Greer, S.C. (Evan Vucci/AP)

Mitt Romney wants to make the Medicare debate easy to understand. So on Thursday, he pulled out a black marker and stepped toward a trusty white board propped up on a school-room easel here to make a presentation.

 The presumptive Republican presidential nominee’s message was simple: For current seniors under President Obama, he said, Medicare would be cut by $716 billion, and some 4 million people would be kicked off their Medicare Advantage plans. Under Romney, he said, current seniors would see “no adjustments, no changes, no savings.”

 For younger Americans who make up the next generation of seniors, Romney said, Obama would “bankrupt” Medicare, while Romney’s plan would leave the federal retiree health-care program “solvent.”

“The differences in our Medicare perspective could not be more stark and dramatic, and I think as the people, as the seniors in America understand what the president’s plan is doing to Medicare, they’re going to find it unacceptable,” Romney said at a news conference at the Greenville-Spartanburg International Airport here.

The $716 billion in Medicare funding cuts are part of Obama’s 2010 health-care overhaul. An estimated 4 million seniors would shift off the Medicare Advantage program, which offers seniors a chance to buy into a series of advanced coverage plans, but the Obama cuts do not result in the elimination of Medicare coverage for anyone.

“Approximately 4 million people will lose their coverage under Medicare Advantage,” Romney said. “This is the plan they’ve chosen. … The president’s plan has a dramatic impact on today’s seniors, people 55 years of age and older.”

Romney, gesturing at his white board, added, “As you can see, there’s no change in Medicare for seniors – none under my plan.”

Obama’s campaign was quick to respond.

“Unfortunately for Mitt Romney, a whiteboard presentation can’t change that he’s got his facts wrong on Medicare – so Obama for America’s Truth Team is releasing a whiteboard of its own to set the record straight,” the Obama campaign said in a statement. “The president has extended the life of the program by nearly a decade. If Romney had his way, it would run out of money by 2016. The president’s health care law eliminates insurance company subsidies and cracks down on waste and fraud in Medicare – saving $716 billion – and doesn’t cut a single guaranteed Medicare benefit. Congressman Ryan included the same savings in his budget, which Romney called ‘marvelous’ and said he’d sign into law.

“But it makes sense that Romney wouldn’t want to tell the truth,” the statement continued. “The Romney-Ryan budget eliminates the guarantee of Medicare and instead provides people with a voucher to buy health care. In fact, a voucher plan authored by Paul Ryan and endorsed by Romney would cost future retirees an additional $6,400.”

 Asked by one reporter whether his plan for future generations of seniors could be characterized as a voucher system, Romney said no.

 “Which of these two do you think is better?” Romney asked, pointing to the words “bankrupt” under Obama and “solvent” under Romney. “Going bankrupt or being solvent? Well, obviously, being solvent.”

 Romney said his plan to keep Medicare solvent revolves around greater competition, such as having various private plans compete to provide Medicare benefits through the government, as well as a means test so that higher-income people would not receive as many benefits as lower-income people.

 “By virtue of doing those things, why we’re able to keep Medicare solvent as opposed to what the president’s proposed, which at this time is to cut Medicare, not to save it – that’s the amazing thing,” Romney said.

Philip Rucker is a national political correspondent for The Washington Post, where he has reported since 2005.

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