(CBS News) President Obama on Friday issued a strong defense of his Medicare plan, telling seniors at an AARP conference that he has strengthened the program during his presidency. He also attacked Mitt Romney's plan as one that would leave Americans "at the mercy of insurance companies" in their golden years.
Speaking via satellite from Virginia before a campaign rally, Mr. Obama painted a stark contrast between his and the GOP's visions for health care, highlighting the ways in which elderly voters would be impacted if the Affordable Care Act is repealed.
"Here's what you need to know: I have strengthened Medicare as president. We've added years to the life of the program," the president said. "My opponents have pledged to repeal [newly implemented] savings and benefits their first day on the job."
Rebutting Republican attacks that his administration had gutted Medicare by implementing $716 billion in reductions to it, Mr. Obama said the cuts were aimed at limiting fraud and waste within the system in order to streamline it. Doing so, he said, lowered premiums over the long run and ultimately extending the life of the Medicare trust fund. He called the notion that his policies had "robbed" Medicare - a favorite criticism of his Republican rivals - "simply not true."
"What we did was, we went after waste and fraud and overcharging by insurance companies, for example," he said. "Those savings do come out of the $716 [billion] and those savings are part of what allows us to close the donut hole, provide the preventive care, and is actually going to extend the life of Medicare for the long term."
He said the reductions were an incentive for doctors, hospitals and insurance companies to "work smarter" and reduce administrative costs.
Mr. Obama argued the Republican plan would burden seniors with extra costs and higher premiums.
"The other side's approach...is to turn Medicare into a voucher program and essentially transfer those costs onto seniors," Mr. Obama said. "Insurance companies, once they're getting vouchers, they're really good at recruiting the healthier, younger Medicare recipients and weeding out and leaving in traditional Medicare the older sicker recipient."
The result, he said, is that "premiums start going up they start going through the roof."
"No American should ever spend their golden years at mercy of insurance companies," the president added.
The president, who spoke to the group before conducting a question and answer session with AARP members, also targeted Romney and Ryan for having suggested in the past that they would be open to partial privatization of Social Security.
"We've got to keep the promise of Social Security by taking responsible steps to strengthen it -- not by turning it over to Wall Street," Mr. Obama said.
As he often does on the campaign trail, the president reiterated to voters that they have "a big choice" this November. He cast the difference as an administration that pursues a balanced approach versus one that seeks tax cuts for the wealthy at the expense of the middle-class.
"That's the choice in this election," Mr. Obama said.
Ryan was set to speak to the group following the president. According to his prepared remarks, the GOP vice presidential candidate was set to accuse the president and Democrats of wanting to hand health care decisions over to "unelected bureaucrats." http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-503544_162-57517430-503544/ryan-to-challenge-obama-on-medicare-at-aarp/?tag=contentMain;contentBody