Romney fleshes out health care plan
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Republican challenger Mitt Romney disclosed on Sunday that he would keep several important parts of Barack Obama's overhaul of the American health care system, altering earlier vows for a blanket repeal of the president's most significant legislative achievement.
As if to acknowledge the growing importance of the United States' aging population, health care was much on the minds of both candidates over the weekend as polls show an upswing in support for Obama following the Democratic National Convention.
Obama was drawing new attention to Romney's plans to alter Medicare, the government health insurance system for the elderly, hitting the issue hard in Florida, a swing state with a vast population of retired Americans.
Realizing his potential vulnerability on health care issues, Romney spelled out more details for the first time on what he foresees as his vision.
"I say we're going to replace Obamacare. And I'm replacing it with my own plan," Romney said. "And even in Massachusetts when I was governor, our plan there deals with pre-existing conditions and with young people."
Those are two of the most popular provisions in the hard-fought Obama overhaul, and Romney adopted them in an interview aired on NBC television's "Meet the Press" Sunday morning. Obama's overhaul bans insurance companies from refusing to cover people with pre-existing medical conditions and allows young people to remain covered under their parents' plan until age 26.
"Of course there are a number of things that I like in health care reform that I'm going to put in place," he said. `'One is to make sure that those with pre-existing conditions can get coverage."
Romney also moved to blunt Obama's attacks on the former Massachusetts governor's plans for further cutting taxes, saying his proposals would pay for cuts in overall tax rates by closing loopholes for high income taxpayers.
"We're not going to have high-income people pay less of the tax burden than they pay today. That's not what's going to happen," he said, responding to Democratic claims that Romney's plan would result in even more tax cuts for the millionaires like himself.
When pressed, however, Romney declined to provide an example of a loophole he would close.
While Obama was continuing his two-day, post-convention swing through Florida, Romney headed to church in Boston on a day off from campaigning.
In Florida, a critical state where older voters and workers approaching retirement hold sway, Obama on Sunday outlined a study by a Democratic leaning group that concluded that on average a man or woman retiring at age 65 in 2023, would have to pay $59,500 more for health care over the length of their retirement under Romney's plan for overhauling Medicare.
The numbers are even higher for younger Americans who retire later, the study found. A person who qualifies for Medicare n 2030 - today's 48-year-old - would see an increase of $124,600 in Medicare costs over their retirement period, according to the study.
While Romney's changes to Medicare would affect future retirees, the study also said that Romney's plan to get rid of Obama's health care reform law could raise health care costs in retirement by $11,000 for the average person who is 65 years old today by reinstating limits on prescription drug coverage.
The study was conducted by David Cutler, a Harvard professor and health policy expert who served in the Clinton administration and was Obama's top health care adviser during the 2008 presidential campaign. Cutler conducted the study for the liberal Center for American Progress Action Fund.
Romney, endorsing a plan put forth by his vice presidential running mate, U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, wants to contain Medicare costs by giving retirees voucher-like government payments that they could use to either buy regular Medicare or private health insurance. But Cutler says older Americans would have to pay more out of pocket to cover the rising costs of health care.
Obama aides believe they successfully forced Romney to temporarily drop his emphasis on the sluggish economy last month by raising the Medicare issue in the wake of his selection of Ryan as his running mate. Romney and Ryan countered by arguing that Obama planned to cut more than $700 billion in Medicare spending over 10 years to pay for his health care plan. Former President Bill Clinton, speaking at the Democratic National Convention, said Ryan's budget plan cut Medicare spending by the same amount.
Whether either side has gained politically from the health care debate is unclear. But Republican analysts say it did take Romney off his economic focus, which they say is essential for him to win the election, especially after a bleak jobs report that showed meager job growth and more unemployed people choosing not to seek work. Campaigning in Kissimmee, Florida, on Saturday, Obama had already worked Medicare into his rally speeches.
"I want you to know I will never turn Medicare into a voucher," Obama told a high-energy crowd of 3,000 at the Kissimmee Civic Center. "I believe no American should ever have to spend their golden years at the mercy of insurance companies. After a lifetime of labor, you should retire with dignity and respect."
Cutler's Democratic affiliations make him vulnerable to accusations of partisanship. But much of his data are drawn from studies by the independent Congressional Budget Office, which has projected even higher costs to future retirees under a 2011 budget plan written by Ryan, now chairman of the House Budget Committee.
The budget agency said future retirees would pay more under Ryan's plan than if they went into traditional Medicare. By 2030, a typical 65-year-old would be paying two-thirds of his or her health costs, the agency said.