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Obama, Romney Spar on Medicare, Medicaid and Health Care Law at First Debate

President Barack Obama and GOP candidate Mitt Romney donned their blue and red ties, respectively, and took to the stage Wednesday evening for the first presidential debate of Election 2012. With little more than a month before Election Day, it was interesting to finally see the two men come face to face. In the 90-minute televised debate broadcast from Denver, Obama and Romney covered ample issues of import to older adults, including Medicare, Medicaid, health care reform and Social Security.

See Also: AARP Bulletin's interviews with Barack Obama and Mitt Romney >> 

Medicare & Social SecurityObama started the entitlements debate by telling a story about his grandmother. "The reason she could be independent was because of Social Security and Medicare," he said. "She had worked all her life, put in this money, and understood that there was a basic guarantee, a floor under which she could not go. And that's the perspective I bring when I think about what's called entitlements." He followed by stating that "the way for us to deal with Medicare in particular is to lower health care costs." As for Social Security, he said the basic structure was sound, it just needed a few tweaks.

Romney started by stating that "neither the president nor I are proposing any changes for any current retirees or near retirees, either to Social Security or Medicare. So if you're 60 or around 60 or older, you don't need to listen any further." He went on to criticize Obama's stance on Medicare reform and note that "with regards to young people coming along, I've got proposals to make sure Medicare and Social Security are there for them without any question."

This was followed by several rounds of back-and-forth between the men over the idea of a voucher system in Medicare, which Romney supports and Obama does not. Obama mentioned AARP twice during this segment, telling Romney "when you move to a voucher system, you are putting seniors at the mercy of those insurance companies. And over time, if traditional Medicare has decayed or fallen apart, then they're stuck ... And this is the reason why AARP has said that your plan would weaken Medicare substantially. And that's why they were supportive of the approach that we took."

In  a statement about the debates, AARP Senior Vice President  John Hishta said:

"While we respect the rights of each campaign to make its case to voters, AARP has never consented to the use of its name by any candidate or political campaign. AARP is a nonpartisan organization and we do not endorse political candidates nor coordinate with any candidate or political party. We remain focused on providing voters with balanced information on where candidates stand on the key issues, so they can make their own decisions on Election Day. For more information on where the candidates stand on premium support and other Medicare topics discussed tonight, see AARP's Voters' Guides."

See clips of the two candidates talking about Medicare and Social Security >>

Medicaid: Obama said that Romney's plan of "shifting Medicaid to states" would result in a 30 percent cut in Medicaid over time. "That may not seem like a big deal when it just is, you know, numbers on a sheet of paper, but if we're talking about a family who's got an autistic kid and is depending on Medicaid, that's a big problem."

Romney responded that all he wanted was "to take the Medicaid dollars that go to states and say to a state, you're going to get what you got last year, plus inflation, plus 1 percent, and then you're going to manage your care for your poor in the way you think best ... the right approach is one which relies on the brilliance of our people and states, not the federal government."  See clips of the two candidates talking Medicaid >>

Health Care Reform: Romney said that as far as cutting spending, "Obamacare" was on his list - then quickly added:

ROMNEY: I apologize, Mr. President. I use that term with all respect, by the way.

OBAMA: I like it.

ROMNEY: Good. OK, good. So I'll get rid of that.

Romney went on to detail the reasons he would repeal the Affordable Care Act, finishing by saying that "the best course for health care is to do what we did in my state: craft a plan at the state level that fits the needs of the state." Obama, of course, defended the health care law.

"If you've got health insurance, it doesn't mean a government takeover. You keep your own insurance. You keep your own doctor. But it does say insurance companies can't jerk you around," he said.

This was followed by several minutes of back-and-forth about the existing health care law specifically and philosophies of health care reform more broadly.  See clips of the two candidates talking health care reform >>

Pop Quiz: How Much Do You Know About Presidential Debates?

The next presidential debate will be held Oct. 16, in a town-hall style format at New York's Hofstra University. The final debate, covering foreign affairs, will take place Oct. 22 in Boca Raton, Fla.

Wanna know what the pundits thought? Check out  Lori Montgomery at the Washington Post, MacKenzie Weinger at Politico, Jim Tankersley at the National Journal, Ezra Klein at Bloomberg, Nicholas Kristof at the New York Times, James Poniewozik at Time and Mark Sanford at Fox News for diverse takes on last night's debate. [Or you could skip all that and just check out CNN's roundup of "the 25 funniest tweets" about the debate.]

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