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Gulleson vows to defend Medicare

FARGO -- Marking the 47th anniversary of Medicare, Democrat Pam Gulleson pledged Wednesday to defend the federal health care program for senior citizens against Republican proposals that she said would seek to dismantle it.

Gulleson met with about two dozen Fargo-area seniors to talk about the importance of Medicare and potential solutions to keep it viable long-term.

"I'll help fight for it, I'll defend it and I'll stand up for it so we can enjoy the path we're on today," Gulleson said.

She criticized proposals from House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, who's suggested Medicare ought to be turned into a voucher-based program in order to save money.

"We should not be trying to buy down the deficit or reduce the budget on the backs of our seniors," Gulleson said. "That's just wrong."

"I will not support -- and I'm not interested in -- a voucher program," she added.

Gulleson called out her opponent Republican Kevin Cramer, whose top endorsers support Ryan's voucher-based Medicare plan.

Conservative super PACS, FreedomWorks and the Club for Growth, have contributed more than $100,000 so far to see Cramer elected to the U.S. House in November.

Cramer told The Forum that he supports vouchers as an option but not as a mandated replacement for Medicare.

"It would be unfair to pull the rug out from under people who spent their life paying into the system," Cramer said.

Instead, Cramer said Congress should remove "generational warfare" from the discussion and guarantee current Medicare benefits to seniors at or above a certain age.

For those below, Congress should arrive at a bipartisan solution that emphasizes "patient choice, doctor-patient collaboration to inspire some competition in a way that brings costs down," he said.

Cramer said repealing Obamacare would be another way to protect the Medicare program. The 2010 health care reform law cuts $500 billion from Medicare over 10 years by mostly targeting administrative costs and fraud.

Since hospital stays are among the most expensive costs Medicare helps pay for, Gulleson said the program should put a greater emphasis on preventative care and early diagnosis, which can lower those costs.

"We should focus on wellness and keeping people out of health care," said Gulleson, who was a licensed nutritionist earlier in her career.