By Sam Baker - 03/12/12 05:16 PM EDT
Mitt Romney won't go on Medicare, his campaign confirmed Monday, the same day the former Massachusetts governor issued a new line of attack on the issue.
Romney turned 65 on Monday, making him eligible for the program. But his campaign said that he will not enroll in it, choosing instead to keep his private insurance.
The line has become a staple of Democratic attacks on GOP proposals to at least partially privatize the Medicare program. But Romney’s campaign said Monday that Obama is hastening the end of Medicare by not doing enough to tackle its rising costs.
“If President Obama's plan is to end Medicare as we know it, he should say so,” Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul said. "If he has another plan, he should have the courage to put it forward. Until he explains his position and answers the following questions, he and his spokespeople are irrelevant to the national debate.”
The former Massachussetts governor was heavily attacked on the issue by rival Republicans during the Florida GOP primary. He, in turn, has strongly criticized Obama, making this a likely recurring theme on the campaign trail.
Seniors are one of the most consistent voting blocs and Romney has done well with voters aged 65 and up during the GOP primary process, according to exit polls.
The Romney campaign said Obama has not proposed big enough changes to save Medicare from insolvency. The program’s fund for hospital care will run out of money in the next 10 years, according to recent projections from the Congressional Budget Office.
While arguing that Obama has not done enough to cut Medicare spending, Romney also criticized the president for Medicare cuts in the healthcare reform law. His statement slams the law for cutting $500 billion in payments to private insurance companies and for establishing an independent board to reduce payments to doctors and some other providers.
Romney’s campaign said the panel would “ration care for today’s seniors.” The House will likely vote soon to repeal the cost-cutting panel, known as the Independent Payment Advisory Board.
The White House has defended the IPAB against GOP criticism by noting that it is one of the key cost-control features in the healthcare law and is legally prohibited from "rationing." The board cannot cut benefits or raise seniors' costs.
Obama has also endorsed other changes to Medicare, including raising the age of eligibility for the program from 65 to 67. But those changes would not be enough to put the program on a stable fiscal path, Romney said.
Romney has called for partially privatizing the Medicare program. His plan — similar to the one introduced by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) — would let seniors choose between the existing, single-payer Medicare system or a subsidy to help them buy private insurance.
Democrats have said the proposal is no better than Ryan’s initial plan to entirely privatize Medicare, which spawned the charge that Republicans would “end Medicare as we known it.” They cite CBO estimates predicting that the subsidies for private insurance would not keep up with the growth in healthcare costs, forcing seniors to pay for a greater share of their benefits.
— This post was updated at 2:13 p.m.