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It's an issue that will eventually affect the health and savings of every American. So before casting your vote for president, writes James Roosevelt, Jr., be clear. In this photo, Mitt Romney writes on a white board as he talks about Medicare during a news conference on Aug. 16, 2012, in Greer, S.C. (AP)

Through their conventions, the Republicans and Democrats have articulated the values, beliefs, and ideals their respective candidates will bring to the White House. One of the most significant differences between the parties – and one people of all ages should be very clear about – is their plans for the future of Medicare.

On the Republican side, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and his running mate Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) claim that their intention is to “preserve Medicare.” But in reality, their plan would end the program as we know it. They would privatize Medicare and shift the cost burden to seniors to pay for tax breaks for the very wealthy.

Under the Romney/Ryan plan, starting in 2023, seniors would begin to receive vouchers to pay private insurers for their health care coverage. If the cost of their care exceeds the voucher amount, because of their health situation or a surge in health care costs beyond their control, seniors would have to pay the difference out of pocket – even after years of paying into the system through payroll deductions.

What would a voucher system mean for everyone under the age of 55 today? In addition to saving for their retirement, they’d have to save thousands — even tens of thousands — more to cover potential health care costs under the voucher system.

In his acceptance speech for the vice presidential nomination, Paul Ryan said, “Medicare is a promise, and we will honor it.” But in reality, the Romney/Ryan plan not only breaks a promise to the 50 million people who count on the program annually, it contradicts the very reason Medicare was created – to guarantee access to health insurance for older Americans.

While the Republican ticket only has a plan for Medicare, the Democrats have already taken action.

The Affordable Care Act – championed by President Barack Obama – contains measures designed to strengthen Medicare. They include improving the coordination of care, fighting fraud that drains the system of millions of dollars and providing new benefits. These steps will preserve and improve the program — not by shifting the burden to seniors — but by making significant reductions in health care costs.

And then, there is that $716 billion figure that keeps popping up.

Gov. Romney claims that President Obama made a $716 billion cut to Medicare to fund the Affordable Care Act. Congressman Ryan echoed his running mate, stepping up the hyperbole by adding, “an obligation we have to our parents and grandparents is being sacrificed.”

Former President Bill Clinton set the record straight when he explained that there were no cuts to Medicare to fund the Affordable Care Act. In reality, President Obama cut certain subsidies to health care providers and insurance companies that were not resulting in better care. The $716 billion in savings went to extending the life of the Medicare Trust Fund until 2024. As President Clinton rightfully said, the Democrats did not weaken Medicare, they strengthened it. He also pointed out that Congressman Ryan relied on that same $716 billion for savings in his budget plan.

Voters will ultimately make their choice based on a number of important issues, but in this election, with such clear differences between the parties, and so much at stake, the future of Medicare should be among the critical deciding factors.

Tags: DNC 2012, Election 2012, RNC 2012

The views and opinions expressed in this piece are solely those of the writer and do not in any way reflect the views of WBUR management or its employees.

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