Ryan budget plan would end traditional Medicare benefits, candidate says

MANATEE -- The choice of Paul Ryan as the Republican vice-presidential nominee and the embrace of his budget plan would "break the moral contract" to take care of seniors and the disabled with Medicare if the GOP wins in November, a congressional candidate said Friday.

"The choice is clear," said Democrat Keith Fitzgerald during a conference call.

The former Sarasota state representative is challenging incumbent Vern Buchanan, R-Longboat Key, in Florida's 16th congressional district.

Accompanying him Friday was fellow Democrat Jessica Ehrlich, who is running in Florida's 13th congressional district.

The pair criticized Ryan's "anti-middle class budget" as he was slated to arrive in the Tampa Bay area for his first Floridafundraiser.

Buchanan voted for Ryan's budget plan, and under its tenets, "Medicare as we know it would come to an end" in favor of a voucher program, Fitzgerald said.

The Ryan plan's Medicare budget cuts would also reinstate the "doughnut hole," which adds expenses for seniors' prescription drugs, and would end traditional benefits of Medicare, Fitzgerald said.

It also calls for repeal of President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act, called "Obamacare" by Republicans.

"Fitzgerald's supportfor raiding Medicare by $716 billion to pay forObamacare is wrong, and harmful to our seniors," said Buchanan Campaign Manager Sally Tibbetts, discussing Fitzgerald's press conference.

"His plan ends Medicare as we know it by putting 15 unelected bureaucrats in charge of limiting care for

seniors," she said. "Fitz-gerald needs to stop following Nancy Pelosi's failed agenda and start thinking about the seniors in our district."

Medicare is a U.S. government health insurance program for those who have turned 65, and for people with permanent disabilities. It covers about 170,000 people in Manatee and Sarasota counties, Fitzgerald estimated.

Last year, Buchanan voted for Ryan's 2012 spending plan, calling for federal budget cuts of $5.8 trillion over the next 10 years, and a Medicare overhaul, according to a House of Representatives website.

However, the plan never became law because, while it passed in the House, it did not clear the Senate.

Medicare is one of the biggest drivers of the federal deficit, according to reporting from McClatchy Newspapers, Inc.

In order to slow spending in the national health plan for seniors, Ryan would replace Medicare's guarantee of coverage for new beneficiaries in 2023 with a flat payment to seniors known as a "voucher" or "premium support," McClatchy reported earlier this week.

They could use that to buy private insurance or traditional Medicare coverage, it said.

When it comes to the future of Medicare, 48 percent of the state's voters fear Obama's health care law more, while 41 percent fear Ryan's proposal more, according to a new telephone poll issued by the polling outlet Rasmussen.

Fitzgerald said he would "urge people to stick to the facts," adding that they are already seeing some of the benefits of the Affordable Care Act, such as the demise of the "doughnut hole."

"Those benefits are in place now," he said. "The Republican plan scales them back."

Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7031.