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On Medicare and Social Security, Barack Obama and Mitt Romney differ

Medicare and Social Security.

Hot issues for sure. And yet, many older voters say they believe the presidential candidates are not effectively explaining their stance.

More than 70 percent of Florida voters age 50 and older said in a recent AARP poll that the economy is making them rely more heavily on Medicare and Social Security.

Among noncollege graduates, the number rises to 80 percent.

Social Security, which was created in 1935 to keep the elderly from falling into poverty after the Depression, is projected to be able to pay full benefits for the next 20 years but only 75 percent after that.

Social Security's financing is especially important to Florida, where one in five residents receives monthly benefits.

Medicare, created along with Medicaid in 1965, insures 49 million seniors and people with disabilities across the country. It accounts for 15 percent of the federal budget and the trust that funds it is projected to run out of money in 2024.

President Obama has proposed adopting a measurement of inflation that would reduce annual increases in Social Security benefits. The plan is expected to reduce the long-term financing shortfall by about 25 percent.

Presumed Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has proposed protecting the status quo for people 55 and over, while raising the retirement age one or two years for the next generation. He also has proposed reducing inflation increases for higher-income recipients.

Below are some comments by Obama and Romney about Social Security and Medicare.

"Working together, we can save Social Security without making any changes in the system for people in or nearing retirement. We have two basic options for future retirees: a tax increase for high-income retirees, or a decrease in the benefit growth rate for high-income retirees. I favor the second option; it protects everyone in the system and it avoids higher taxes that will drag down the economy.

Mitt Romney, in a May 15 speech in Des Moines, Iowa

"Social Security is not in an immediate crisis. It's not the driver of our deficits, the way Medicare and our health care programs are. What I've said to [Republicans] is, 'I am prepared to sit down with you, the way Ronald Reagan and Tip O'Neill sat down together. And make very modest adjustments that extend the life of Social Security for 75 years.' We can do that again. But it's going to require us not playing politics with Social Security. Understanding that millions of Americans have been lifted out of poverty because of Social Security. It is the linchpin of our social safety net. We can't privatize it. We don't want it to be subject to the winds in the stock market. We want it there for people over the long run.

President Obama, in June/July issue of AARP Magazine

"A few common sense reforms will ensure we make good on our promises to today's seniors while saving Social Security and Medicare for future generations. Tax hikes are off the table, and there will be no change for those at or near retirement. But younger generations will enter a system strengthened for the 21st century.

"When it comes to Social Security, we will slowly raise the retirement age. We will slow the growth in benefits for higher-income retirees.

"When it comes to Medicare, tomorrow's seniors will have a choice among insurance providers, including traditional Medicare. As with Medicare Part D today, the private sector will compete to offer insurance coverage at the lowest possible price. Seniors will then receive government support to ensure they can afford that coverage. And with Medicare, like with Social Security, lower-income seniors will receive the most generous benefits.

Mitt Romney, in a Feb. 24 speech in Detroit

"Now, I realize there are some in my party who don't think we should make any changes at all to Medicare and Medicaid, and I understand their concerns. But here's the truth: Millions of Americans rely on Medicare in their retirement. And millions more will do so in the future. They pay for this benefit during their working years; they earn it.

"But with an aging population and rising health care costs, we are spending too fast to sustain the program. And if we don't gradually reform the system, while protecting current beneficiaries, it won't be there when future retirees need it. We have to reform Medicare to strengthen it.

President Obama, in a speech Sept. 8, 2011, to a joint session of Congress

Times researcher Natalie Watson contributed to this report. Patti Ewald can be reached at pewald@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8746.

Florida, by the numbers (All figures for residents 65 and older in 2011)

2.8 million

people receiving Social Security

$14,000 average amount a Social Security recipient received

63

percentage of average income coming from Social Security

9

percentage in poverty

$39.6

billions of dollars Social Security paid

$5,300

average dollars paid out of pocket by Medicare recipients

2.9 million enrolled in Medicare

$31.2

billions of dollars Medicare spent

Source: AARP

On Medicare and Social Security, Barack Obama and Mitt Romney differ 08/21/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, August 21, 2012 4:30am]

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