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In Florida, Paul Ryan warns of Medicare rationing under Obama plan

THE VILLAGES, Fla. -- Escalating the campaign fight over Medicare, Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan warned an audience of Florida seniors Saturday that changes to the program made by President Obama’s healthcare plan will lead to rationing of care for the elderly.

Ryan made the charge during a campaign stop at the largest retirement community in Florida, the state with the nation’s biggest proportion of seniors and the 2012 battleground with the most electoral votes.

Campaigning with his diminutive, 78-year-old mother at his side, Ryan tore into a provision of Obama’s healthcare law that would give an independent federal panel authority to rein in Medicare spending if the program grows too fast. The board’s recommendations would take effect unless Congress acted to change them.

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Obama “puts a board of 15 unelected, unaccountable bureaucrats in charge of Medicare who are required to cut Medicare in ways that will lead to denied care for current seniors,” Ryan said.

As a result of changes made by the new federal law, “one out of six of our hospitals and our nursing homes will go out of business,” he added.

The Wisconsin congressman said he and presidential candidate Mitt Romney “will restore the promise of this program and we will make sure that this board of bureaucrats will not mess with my mom’s healthcare or your mom’s healthcare.”

A large blue-and-white campaign sign reading “Protect & Strengthen Medicare” provided the backdrop for cameras at the outdoor rally. Circling overhead, a single-engine plane towed a banner offering a counter-argument: “Paul Ryan: Keep your hands off our Medicare!”

Ryan’s deficit-reduction plan, which Romney has embraced, calls for cutting the growth of Medicare spending by offering future seniors a choice: stay in the traditional government program or use an annual subsidy to buy healthcare coverage from private insurance carriers.

The Republicans have not offered specifics on how they would restrain the growth of Medicare. Ryan contends that market competition — with 50 million seniors shopping for care — would keep costs in check. Obama contends that the Ryan-Romney proposal would push up healthcare costs for seniors by $6,400 a year.

Romney aides say that a preemptive strike is their best shot at neutralizing an issue that has been an advantage for Democrats, who are aggressively warning seniors that the Republicans would radically alter the program they depend on for healthcare coverage. However, some Republican strategists in Florida worry that the focus on Medicare, rather than jobs and the economy, could jeopardize their chances of carrying the state, considered a must-win for Romney in November.

paul.west@latimes.com

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Twitter: @paulwestdc


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