Obama tells Floridians future of Medicare is "at stake" this election

President Barack Obama waves to supporters after speaking at a campaign event, Sunday, Sept. 9, 2012, in Melbourne, Fla.
AP Photo/John Raoux
President Barack Obama waves to supporters after speaking at a campaign event, Sunday, Sept. 9, 2012, in Melbourne, Fla.
AP Photo/John Raoux

(CBS News) On the second day of his two-day bus tour through Florida, President Obama hit back against his Republican opponent's plan for Medicare, arguing that GOP vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan's plan would be a windfall for insurance companies.

"They want to give money back to the insurance companies and put them in charge of Medicare," President Obama said during a campaign stop Sunday morning in Melbourne, Fla.

He pointed to a recent study by Harvard Economics Professor David Cutler (who had also advised the president during the creation of the health care law) that says turning Medicare into a voucher program - where seniors receive a stipend to purchase health insurance through private insurance companies, which is Ryan's proposal - would immediately increase the cost to seniors by $768 per year.

The study also says that insurance companies would see an increase in profits of between $16 and $26 billion a year.

"So basically your costs would rise by the thousands, and their profits could rise by the billions," Mr. Obama said. "So here's the bottom line: Their voucher plan for Medicare would bankrupt Medicare. Our plan strengthens Medicare."

(Watch a clip of the president's remarks on Medicare in the video to the left.)

The study is additional fodder for an issue that has become prominent this election. Although the study was released more than a month ago, Mr. Obama trotted it out in the key battleground state of Florida where seniors, who are a crucial voting bloc, are concerned about losing their health benefits. At least 17 percent of Florida residents receive Medicare benefits.

Mr. Obama told the crowd that seniors "should have some basic security" after working hard and that the new health care law "strengthened" Medicare by extending the program for eight years, by cutting payments to providers and by lowering the cost of prescription drugs.

"I will never turn Medicare into a voucher," he said, adding that the future of Medicare "is going to be part of what's at stake this election," he added.

While the president talked about his five-point plan to "rebuild the economy," which includes investments in education, energy and national security as well as reducing the deficit and creating jobs, he mocked Mitt Romney's plan to cut taxes by $5 trillion while also saying he would reduce the deficit.

"They couldn't answers questions about how'd they pay for $5 trillion in tax cuts and $t trillion dollars in new defense spending without raising taxes on the middle class," the president told the crowd, referring to an interview with Ryan on CBS' "Face the Nation" where Ryan was asked how his and Romney's plan would not add to the deficit. "That's not bold leadership; that's bad math. That gets a failing grade."

(Watch in the video to the left: President Obama booed for Chicago Bears shout-out.)

During the CBS interview Sunday, Ryan said their plan would "broaden" the tax base. "We're saying by not having higher income earners utilize these tax shelters, we can lower tax rates on everybody because they pay more of their income to taxation."

In what has become the theme of his stump speeches, the president said this election is "a choice between two fundamentally different paths for America."

"It's going to take more than a few years to deal with problems that have been building up for decades.," he said. Attempting to balance the reality of a tough economy with optimism for a better future, however, the president added, "When our opponent goes around and says our nation's in decline. He doesn't know what he's talking about."

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    Leigh Ann Caldwell is a political reporter for CBSNews.com.