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Obama: Medicare changes didn’t reduce benefits ‘a single dime’

President Obama on Saturday pushed back at Republican accusations that he “raided” Medicare to fund his signature legislative achievement, the Affordable Care Act, and accused Mitt Romney of “overheated rhetoric at election time.”

“We gave seniors deeper discounts on prescription drugs, and made sure preventive care like mammograms are free without a co-pay,” Obama said in his weekly White House address. “We’ve extended the life of Medicare by almost a decade and I’ve proposed reforms that will save Medicare money by getting rid of wasteful spending in the healthcare system and reining in insurance companies – reforms that won’t touch your guaranteed Medicare benefits. Not by a single dime.”

Mitt Romney’s campaign has been on the offensive over Medicare since adding Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) to the GOP ticket, believing that the budget Ryan authored, which would allow Medicare beneficiaries to choose between traditional Medicare and federal subsidies with which to buy private insurance, could be a liability to their campaign.

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Romney and Ryan have seized on roughly $700 billion in reductions to projected Medicare growth estimated over the next decade under Obama’s 2010 reform law.

“In order to pay for ‘ObamaCare,’ he raided the Medicare piggy bank, took $700 billion out of the Medicare program and shifted it to ObamaCare, [and] that's wrong,” said Eric Fehrnstrom, a top Romney adviser, on CNN's “State of the Union” last week, adding that the changes would force thousands of seniors to look for alternative forms of coverage.

Democrats have been quick to push back, arguing that Medicare cuts at the center of the GOP attacks come largely from eliminating waste, fraud and subsidies to insurance companies, not from cutting health benefits to seniors.

Obama personalized that message on Saturday.

“Growing up as the son of a single mother, I was raised with the help of my grandparents. I saw how important things like Medicare and Social Security were in their lives and I saw the peace of mind it gave them.”

“That’s why, as president, my goal has been to strengthen these programs now, and preserve them for future generations,” Obama continued. “Because today’s seniors deserve that same peace of mind and the millions of Americans who are working hard right now deserve to know that the care they need will be available when they need it.”

The president also turned the focus back to the Ryan budget. While Ryan refers to his Medicare reform as a “premium support” system, Democrats have labeled it a “voucher program” that will leave seniors taking out-of-pocket cost for top-line medical care.

 “Republicans in Congress have put forward a very different plan,” Obama said. “They want to turn Medicare into a voucher program. That means that instead of being guaranteed Medicare, seniors would get a voucher to buy insurance, but it wouldn’t keep up with costs. As a result, one plan would force seniors to pay an extra $6,400 a year for the same benefits they get now. And it would effectively end Medicare as we know it.”

Obama sought to reclaim the Medicare argument for Democrats, who have long held the advantage over Republicans on the popular entitlement program.

“Here in America, we believe in keeping our promises – especially to our seniors who have put in a lifetime of hard work and deserve to enjoy their golden years,” Obama said. “That’s what Medicare is all about. That’s why we need to strengthen and preserve it for future generations, and as long as I have the honor of serving as your President, that’s exactly what I’ll do.”

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