Medicare takes center stage in Florida

Linda Schulte, a 45-year-old cancer survivor, said the issue of Medicare is extremely important to her.
CBS News

(CBS News) TAMPA, Fla. - One of the biggest differences between President Barack Obama and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney is their stance on Medicare

The latest figures show 18 percent of Floridians receive Medicare benefits - the third highest total in the nation behind West Virginia and Maine, so it's a big issue here as it is in other battleground states.

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Linda Schulte is a 45-year-old cancer survivor who's making a living in the volatile real estate market around Orlando.

The market has been improving, but she's worried nonetheless. Schulte said that health insurance is a major issue for her.

"I went from being a perfectly healthy person in really great shape and everything to I was dealing with breast cancer," she said.

Today, she exercises regularly because she knows the cancer could return. And even though she's 20 years shy of eligibility for Medicare, she is anxious about the debate over its future.

"Twenty years are going to fly by, I understand that," Schulte said.

In the Affordable Care Act, the president offers little change in traditional Medicare for patients.

Republicans say he is cutting $700 billion from the program, but that's really the estimated savings over 10 years, from lower payments to hospitals and doctors.

"My plan's already extended the life of Medicare by nearly a decade," President Obama said.

Romney says the system is going bankrupt and to prevent that, he would offer those now under 55 a choice: keep Medicare or buy private insurance with help from an annual lump sum payment from the government.

That, he says, will drive down costs.

"There will be greater competition between the government and private plans," Romney said.

But he doesn't say how generous the government payment would be -- and acknowledges that patients would be on the hook for medical bills exceeding whatever the amount is.

"If you can afford to do it, it's great," Schulte said. "But I don't know how many people over the age of 65 - if they haven't saved up a lot of money - are going to be able to afford to do that voucher program."

Schulte said she's skeptical about keeping the program the way it is, because there might not be any Medicare left to begin with by the time she reaches 65.

"With the current administration, I'm not sure that our economy is going to flourish as it would if we had Romney in there," she said. "But I'm not really certain what kind of health plan we'll have with Romney. So it's a huge tug of war, it's a huge tug of war."

For Schulte, it's a tug of war between her health care needs of the future and the economic conditions in which she finds herself in right now.

  • Dean Reynolds

    Dean Reynolds is a CBS News National Correspondent based in Chicago.