Ryan campaigns with mother, vows to protect Medicare for seniors

Hoping to dent Democratic attacks on his Medicare reform proposals, GOP vice presidential candidate Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) was joined by his mother at an event in Florida Saturday where he pledged to preserve the program and accused the Obama administration of trying to "mess" with seniors' benefits.

Speaking at a campaign rally in The Villages, Fla., a large retirement community, Ryan said Medicare was “what my mom relies on, and what my grandmother had.”

“My grandma moved in with us, with my mom and me when I was in high school. She had advanced Alzheimer’s. My mom and I were her two primary care givers,” said Ryan. “Medicare was there for my family, for my grandma, when we needed it then. And Medicare’s there for my mom while she needs it now and we need to keep that guarantee.”

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Ryan said his mother, Betty Douglas, had been on the program for “over 10 years,” joking that he wouldn’t share with the audience exactly how many years she had been on Medicare. 

“She plans her retirement around this promise that the government made her because she paid her payroll taxes into this program, which she had this promise with. That’s a promise we have to keep,” he said.

Ryan hit at Obama, who he said had weakened the program by shifting $716 billion towards other programs in his healthcare reform bill and pushing program officials to look for ways to cut benefits.

“The president raised $716 billion from the Medicare program to pay for the ‘ObamaCare’ program,” said Ryan. “What’s more, in addition to that he 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. “

“Four million seniors are projected to lose their Medicare plans that they chose and enjoy today under this ObamaCare plan,” he said.

Ryan said that the GOP ticket was committed to protecting the program. “We will end the raid of Medicare, we will restore the promise of this program and we will make sure this board of bureaucrats won’t mess with my mom’s healthcare or your mom’s healthcare,” he added.

The Obama campaign, though, defended their work on Medicare and said Ryan was hiding the details of his own proposals from seniors.

"Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan know a detailed debate about their Medicare voucher plan is politically ‘suicidal’ so they’re not telling the truth about its impact on current seniors," said Obama campaign spokesman Danny Kanner, in a statement. 

"Congressman Ryan didn’t tell seniors in Florida today that if he had his way, seniors would face higher Medicare premiums and prescription drug costs, and would be forced to pay out of pocket for preventive care," added Kanner. "He didn’t say that if he had his way, Medicare would be bankrupt in just four years, or that he would give $150 billion taxpayer dollars back to private insurance companies, which raises costs for everyone.  He didn’t say that they’d turn Medicare into a voucher system, ending the Medicare guarantee and raising costs by $6,400 a year for seniors."

Presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney’s selection of Ryan as his running mate has put Medicare in the election spotlight, with Democrats moving quickly to hit the House Budget Committee chairman on his proposals to shift the program to a subsidized private-insurance model. 

Democrats say the move would raise healthcare costs for seniors. 

Republicans have hit back, claiming President Obama weakened Medicare by cutting $716 billion from the program, saying he used the funds to pay for other elements of his controversial health reforms.

The White House says those savings came from cutting waste and fraud and eliminating insurance subsidies and that seniors’ benefits have not been affected.

A poll last week also showed voters more concerned about Medicare than Obama’s healthcare reform bill and suggested the issue could be problematic for the Romney-Ryan ticket. A survey from Kaiser and The Washington Post said 58 percent of voters want the program to remain the way it is rather than be privatized in part.

On the stump with his mother, Ryan sought to reassure senior voters in the key swing state of Florida that his proposals would not alter their Medicare benefits and hammer Obama for weakening the program.

“Medicare should not be used as a piggybank for ObamaCare. Medicare should be the promise that is made to our current seniors, period, end of story,” said Ryan. 

Ryan’s mother lives part-time in Florida, spending her winter months in the Sunshine state, according to reports.

This story was updated at 11:26 a.m.