Mitt Romney on Friday unveiled a plan to fundamentally re-shape Medicare, tackling one of the 2012 presidential contest’s most delicate issues before a skeptical crowd of tea party activists.

To cut costs, the Republican presidential hopeful and former Massachusetts governor would introduce vouchers, or “premium supports,” to future recipients of the popular health insurance program for the elderly. Romney addressed the lightning-rod issue during a fiscal policy speech before an afternoon gathering of conservative activists at the Washington Convention Center, where the tea party-allied group Americans for Prosperity is holding a two-day event.

Romney has struggled to win tea party support, and his plan is a nod of sorts to those who want to slash behemoth government programs. In other areas he may not go as far as some conservative activists would like, but Romney says he would cut federal spending by $500 billion in his first term as president.

Few cuts will be more contentious than his plans for Medicare.

Romney’s plan is similar to the controversial proposal released by Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan earlier in the year. He hasn’t finalized many details, but the federal government would no longer pay for all Medicare patients’ health-care costs under a Romney system. Instead, it would offer future recipients a set amount of money to be used for a private insurance plan or a version of the traditional program.

“The federal government will help seniors pay for the option they choose, with a level of support that ensures all can obtain the coverage they need,” Romney said.



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