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Paul Ryan to seniors: Medicare 'going bankrupt,' competition is answer

At an AARP conference Friday, GOP vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan spoke of financial peril ahead for Medicare and contrasted his party's "competition"-based plan to fix it with Obama's plan under the health-care reform law.

By Staff writer / September 21, 2012

Republican vice presidential candidate, Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., appears at the AARP convention in Friday.

Bill Haber/AP

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Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan spoke bluntly about Medicare and Social Security Friday, sketching Republican reform ideas and arguing that President Obama, not the GOP, is putting those programs at financial risk.

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Often accused by political foes of scheming to "gut Medicare," Mr. Ryan sought to turn that image around.

Speaking at the AARP's "Life @ 50+" conference in New Orleans, he pledged that a Romney-Ryan White House would make no changes to Medicare for Americans now at or near retirement age.

Using terminology that critics say is exaggerated, Ryan said Medicare is "going bankrupt." He accused Mr. Obama of offering no plan for how to cope with projected financial shortfalls, other than calling on unelected bureaucrats to impose cost cuts. Ryan was referring to the Independent Payment Advisory Board, set up in the president's 2010 health-care reform law, the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

"We propose putting 50 million seniors ... in charge of their own health-care decisions," Ryan said in his speech.

Giving seniors a choice of insurance plans, including traditional Medicare, would encourage competition and help hold down the medical inflation rate, he argued.

Ryan's remarks elicited an animated blend of boos and some cheers, sounds that sometimes competed as the congressman from Wisconsin spoke on, unfazed.

Obama addressed the same crowd Friday via satellite. He said the Romney-Ryan approach would undermine a program millions of Americans hold in high regard. "The problem is that insurance companies, once they’re getting vouchers, they’re really good at recruiting the healthier, younger Medicare recipients," Obama argued. "The entire infrastructure of traditional Medicare ends up collapsing, which means that all seniors at some point end up being at the mercy of the insurance companies."

Their dueling visions set the parameters of a battle that will continue between now and Election Day.

The Republican ticket argues that the way to save Medicare is to introduce more competition, and that Obama's path puts the program on a course toward weakness and insolvency. "Time and again, ... he's put his own job security over your retirement security," Ryan said.

The president, in his most recent weekly address to the nation, said he proposes "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."

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