ORLANDO, Fla. – President Barack Obama is drawing fresh attention to Medicare in all-important Florida, seizing on an election-year issue that’s been more favorable to Democrats.
Campaigning for a second day in a state where older voters and workers approaching retirement hold sway, Obama was expected to highlight a study by a Democratic leaning group that concluded that on average a man or woman retiring at age 65 in 2023 would have to pay $59,500 more for health care over the length of their retirement under Mitt Romney’s plan.
The numbers are even higher for younger people who retire later, the study found. A person who qualifies for Medicare in 2030 – today’s 48-year-old – would see an increase of $124,600 in Medicare costs over their retirement period.
While Romney’s changes to Medicare would affect future retirees, the study also said that the Republican presidential nominee’s plan to get rid of Obama’s health care law could raise health care costs in retirement by $11,000 for the average person who is 65 today by reinstating limits on prescription drug coverage.
The study was conducted by David Cutler, a Harvard professor and health policy expert who served in the Clinton administration and was Obama’s top health care adviser during the 2008 presidential campaign. Cutler conducted the study for the liberal Center for American Progress Action Fund.
Romney would seek to contain Medicare costs by giving retirees voucher-like government payments that they could use to either buy regular Medicare or private health insurance. But Cutler says older Americans would have to pay more out of pocket to cover the rising costs of health care.
While Obama was continuing his two-day, post-convention swing with stops in Melbourne and West Palm Beach, Romney headed to church in Boston on a day off from campaigning.
But Romney and his running mate, Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, were hardly out of public view, with morning interviews running on several Sunday talk shows.
Romney, who promised early in his campaign to repeal Obama’s health overhaul, told NBC’s “Meet the Press” that he would keep several important parts of the law.
“Of course there are a number of things that I like in health care reform that I’m going to put in place,” he said. “One is to make sure that those with pre-existing conditions can get coverage.”
Romney also said he would allow young adults to keep their coverage under their parents’ health-insurance.
“I say we’re going to replace Obamacare. And I’m replacing it with my own plan,” Romney said. “And even in Massachusetts when I was governor, our plan there deals with pre-existing conditions and with young people.”
Ryan, who was on the West Coast, took issue with Obama’s claim that Romney and Ryan are “new to foreign policy” and want to take the U.S. back “to an era of blustering and blundering that cost America so dearly.”
Ryan, a congressman since 1999, said on CBS’ “Face the Nation” that he has more foreign policy experience than Obama did before he entered the White House. Such “name calling” is “what people do when they have nothing else to offer,” he said.
On the Medicare front, Obama aides believe they successfully forced Romney to temporarily drop his emphasis on the sluggish economy last month by raising the Medicare issue in the wake of Romney’s selection of Ryan as his running mate. Romney and Ryan countered by arguing that Obama planned to cut hundreds of billions of dollars in Medicare spending over 10 years to pay for his health care plan.
Whether either side gained politically from that debate is unclear. But Republican analysts say it did take Romney off his economic focus, which they say is essential for him to win the election, especially after a bleak jobs report that showed meager job growth and more unemployed people choosing not to seek work.
Campaigning in Kissimmee on Saturday, Obama had already worked Medicare into rally speeches.
“I want you to know I will never turn Medicare into a voucher,” he said. “I believe no American should ever have to spend their golden years at the mercy of insurance companies. After a lifetime of labor, you should retire with dignity and respect.”
Vice President Joe Biden called the GOP plan “Vouchercare.”
Biden said Saturday in Ohio the Romney and Ryan plan would force “Mom” to go out into the insurance market and look for the best deal she can find. If the plan costs more than the voucher amount, “They say, 'Mom go borrow somewhere'" to pay for it, Biden said.
Cutler’s Democratic affiliations make him vulnerable to accusations of partisanship. But much of his data is drawn from studies by the independent Congressional Budget Office, which has projected even higher costs to future retirees under a 2011 budget plan written by Ryan, who is chairman of the House Budget Committee.
The budget agency said future retirees would pay more under Ryan’s plan than if they went into traditional Medicare. By 2030, a typical 65-year-old would be paying two-thirds of his or her health costs, the agency said.
Romney spokeswoman Amanda Henneberg said the vice president’s comments were “further proof that the Obama campaign is unable and unwilling to talk honestly or substantively about the most important issues driving the country.”
Daly reported from Chillicothe, Ohio. Associated Press writer Thomas Beaumont contributed from Virginia Beach, Va.