Florida Seniors Split on Medicare Debate

Brian Padden
In the southern U.S. state of Florida, senior citizens who make up 25 percent of the electorate are greatly concerned with the expanding costs of Medicare, the government health insurance program for the elderly.  Democrat Barack Obama and Republican Mitt Romney have been competing for the support of those over 65.  But solutions proposed by the candidates are reinforcing the existing ideological divide between the parties - and not winning more votes.
The Republican Party's 2008 presidential candidate, Senator John McCain, has been campaigning for Mitt Romney in southern Florida.  He says new leadership is needed to reduce the more than one-trillion-dollar federal deficit.
“We have mortgaged our children, our grand-children's futures and there is now a debt of $51,000 per every man, woman and child in America.  We cannot stand that," he said. 
Republican deficit reduction plans rely heavily on cutting government spending. Vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan once proposed cutting $716 billion from Medicare, but the Republican candidates say they will protect benefits for today's seniors and strengthen the plan for the next generation. 
Many Republican seniors in Florida, like Larry Stoltenberg, support reducing benefits for current recipients.  
“We have got to do something as a nation.  I have got three sons and two grandchildren.  I do not expect to see them $100,000 or $200,000 in debt because we decided that we want to give free medical care to everybody in the world.  I do not think that is right," he said. 
Robert Schaab says health care for seniors should not bankrupt the next generation.  "There has to be some changes made.  The seniors are going to have to give in.  I mean we can not absolutely destroy the younger class.  I mean, they have been awful generous to us.  And I think we got to give something back," he said. 
Republicans would like to eventually make Medicare a voucher program,  guaranteeing a limited amount of money for health care. 
But critics, like 88-year-old Democrat Eufaula Fraizer, fear the vouchers would not cover costs and would hurt the poor. 
“I do not like the voucher plan.  I prefer letting it stay just like it is.  I do not like the voucher plan.  Not even for nothing," she said. 
Republicans say President Obama is cutting $700 billion from Medicare to pay for what they call 'Obamacare'  - to give more citizens access to health insurance.  The president says he has been working to decrease medical costs, not coverage for seniors. 
Many Democrats, like 82-year-old Helen Portner, support the president's efforts. And Portner says she would be willing to pay more taxes to do it.
“I am willing right now, willing to give an additional amount of money to Medicare if I thought it was going to help those people that did not have enough money to bear the cost of what medical expenses are today, and as you know they are extremely high," she said. 
Analysts say Florida seniors' opinions on the Medicare debate reflect their individual political ideologies and are not likely to give either presidential candidate an advantage.   

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