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Transcript: President Barack Obama

The president’s remarks and Q&A session with AARP members

Jane Pauley: Mr. President, a question for you from Hawaii, from Richard: “What would you do to guarantee the future of Medicare?”

President Obama: Well, again, it turns out that contrary to what you’ve heard and what you may hear from subsequent speakers, Obamacare actually strengthened Medicare. So what we did was extend the Medicare trust fund by eight years. In addition, we dealt with prescription drugs in a way that is helping seniors now and in the future. The preventive care that we’re doing is going to ensure that seniors stay healthier, which reduces costs.

And one thing that I want to point out is, when you hear this notion of — that we somehow took $716 billion, robbed it from Medicare beneficiaries and seniors, I want you to know that is simply not true. What we did was we went after waste and fraud, and overcharging by insurance companies, for example. Those savings do come out to $716 [billion], and those savings are part of what allows us to close the doughnut hole, provide the preventive care, and is actually going to extend the life of Medicare over the long term. It also, by the way, helps to reduce the increase in the premiums that seniors pay under Medicare.

And that points to what we need to do with Medicare generally. What we need to do is to go after the waste, the fraud, and reduce health care costs overall. So part of what we’re doing through this new health care law is using the power of — the purchasing power of Medicare to say to doctors and hospitals and insurance companies, you guys need to work smarter — instead of having five different tests that you’re charging us for, do one test and then email it to everybody. Instead of having all kinds of administrative costs and paperwork, let’s make sure that we’re using health IT — information technologies — to do a better job. Let’s coordinate care better. Let’s engage in more preventive care.

Because this is not just a Medicare problem. Medicare actually is a very efficient program relative to the private insurance programs. The problem is health care costs generally are going up. So we’ve got to bring down health care costs; that’s what we’re focused on. And I just want to point out that the other side’s approach to saving Medicare — and you’ll be hearing about this, I gather, after I speak — is to turn Medicare into a voucher program and essentially transfer those costs onto seniors.

Congressman Ryan’s original plan that was put forward — independent analysis showed that, as a consequence, seniors could expect to pay over $6,000 more for their Medicare once they were under a voucher program. Now, that was his original plan. I want to be fair here. He then modified it — because obviously there was a lot of pushback from seniors on that idea — so he said, well, we’re going to have traditional Medicare stand side by side with the voucher program, and no current beneficiaries will be affected.

The problem is that 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 [to] the older, sicker recipients. And over time what happens is that, because there are older, sicker folks in the traditional Medicare plan, premiums start going up, they start going through the roof. And the entire infrastructure of traditional Medicare ends up collapsing, which means that all seniors at some point end up being at the mercy of the insurance companies through a voucher program. That’s what we’re trying to prevent. And the reason that AARP supported Obamacare and does not support this voucher approach is because they have looked at these independent experts and the analysis that they’ve put forward, and they know that a voucher program is not going to be a good deal for Medicare over the long haul.

Jane Pauley: Mr. President, from Sandwich, Massachusetts, Kathy has the following question for you: “What would your administration do to make sure age discrimination laws are enforced so we have an even playing field to get a job?”

President Obama: Well, this is a great question, and obviously one of the challenges that we’ve seen as a consequence of this terrible recession we went through was a lot of workers in their 50s and early 60s found themselves suddenly laid off, and it’s very hard for them to get their foot in the door despite all the incredible experience that they have and the skills and training that they’ve got. So there are a couple of things that we need to do.

Number one, we just have to make sure that we’re enforcing nondiscrimination laws effectively. And the attorney general knows that that's always a top priority for me. In some cases, part of what we’re trying to do is to see if we legislatively can overturn some bad Supreme Court rulings that have made it harder to prove age discrimination.

Jane Pauley: Using the …

President Obama: And that's something that we’re really focused on.

Jane Pauley: Forgive me for interrupting the president of the United States. Sorry. Mr. President, you used the word “legislation,” which will ring a bell with Joe from Fort Aktinson, Wisconsin, who asks: “What can you do about this gridlock between both sides of the aisle in Congress?”

President Obama: Well, Jane, let me just say this — first of all, before I go to the gridlock issue, I did want to emphasize that in addition to dealing with age discrimination, the work that's being done between the SBA [Small Business Administration] and the AARP around the Encore Entrepreneur’s Program, helping thousands of seniors across the country start their own small businesses, if in fact they're not getting hired, to provide them a source of income and use their incredible skills — I just wanted to give a shout out to AARP because that program is really doing great work.

But when it comes to gridlock, look, I came in in 2008 and I said, even though I got 53 percent of the vote and 47 percent of the country voted against me, that I’d be the president for everybody, and I’d listen to everybody’s voices.

And every idea that I put forward and all the work that we have done has been to draw on the best ideas from both parties. In fact, Obamacare now owes a debt to what was done in Massachusetts by my opponent Mr. Romney, even though sometimes he denies it.

So I am always going to be looking to find common ground and solve problems for the American people. The one thing I won't do, though, is to go along with bad ideas that are not helping the middle class, not helping people who have worked hard all their lives, not helping to provide ladders of opportunity to people who are still looking to succeed in this great country of ours. And so, if I hear that the only way that Republicans in Congress are willing to move forward is to voucherize Medicare, I'll say no. If the only thing that they're willing to offer in terms of deficit reduction is to do it on the backs of seniors or our children who need to get a great education, or middle-class families who can't afford another tax increase, I'm going to say no.

So part of what I think you want from your president is somebody who is working hard to bring people together, but is also willing to stand up to bad ideas that would end up tilting the playing field further in favor of those who have already made it instead of also thinking about folks who are trying to make it who worked hard all their lives, like my grandmother. And that’s exactly why I'm running for a second term as president of the United States.

Jane Pauley: Mr. President, on behalf of everyone here in the hall and listening online, we are so grateful that you could spend some time with us this morning. Thank you very much.

President Obama: Thank you so much, Jane. Take care, everybody.

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