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The Takeaway: Candidates Court Older Americans on Medicare

Who Do You Trust? Medicare is shaping up to be one of the key issues of the 2012 elections. With older Americans still significantly more likely to vote than younger counterparts-34 percent of voters in the 2010 congressional election were 60 or older-presidential and congressional candidates alike are (or will be) trying to prove their plans for Medicare are best. Everyone wants to cast themselves as the protector of the popular insurance program. "But in the face of dire warnings about the program's long-term sustainability, every one of them has also embraced ways to lower costs that have proven radioactive in previous elections," Kaiser Health News notes.

Republican presidential candidates Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich have all embraced some of the ideas laid out by Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., whose 2011 Medicare plan would have abolished traditional Medicare for those under 55, replacing it with a "premium support" system that would give a set amount of money to beneficiaries to shop for private health coverage.

Romney's Medicare reform plan would use the premium support model laid out by Ryan, but also allow Medicare beneficiaries who like the current government-run insurance plan to opt for that instead of private insurance. It's a compromise similar to the one proposed by Ryan and Sen. Ron Wyden, D- Ore., in December. Gingrich also endorsed the Wyden-Paul compromise plan. Santorum said he supports the plan, but he'd rather it didn't preserve traditional Medicare.

President Obama, on the other hand, wrote in his 2013 budget plan that he would "not support ... efforts to turn Medicare into a voucher."

The president says he wants to preserve Medicare's current guarantee to cover set benefits, but curb costs through greater efficiencies, such as strengthening incentives for doctors, hospitals and other health care providers to give high-quality care, and cutting expenditures for those who get care through the Medicare Advantage program. ... In his budget proposal, the president sought additional savings by increasing premiums for higher-income beneficiaries, raising the price for some home health care services and increasing efforts to reduce fraud and waste.

Ron Paul's Medicare  plans are vague (he's previously called the program unconstitutional, but also admitted that doing away with it wasn't practical).

Meanwhile, two Republican senators Thursday unveiled a new Medicare overhaul proposal. It features a quicker transition to private health insurance plans for many older adults, a gradual increase in the Medicare eligibility age, and higher premiums for middle-class and upper-income retirees. The plan itself is unlikely to go anywhere this year, but it will help define the debate for presidential and congressional candidates this year.

Friday Quick Hits: 

  • With older adults working even as they begin collecting Social Security or taking distributions from retirement accounts, financial experts say a tax strategy for "retirement" has never been more important.
  • And beginning with spending levels at age 65, household expenditure falls by 19 percent by age 75, 34 percent by age 85, and 52 percent by age 95, according to a new study.
 Photo: Eric Thayer/Reuters
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