US President Barack Obama called Saturday for protecting Medicare -- a government-run health insurance program for the senior, drawing a sharp distinction between his plan and that of his Republican opponents.
"Here in America, we believe in keeping our promises - especially to our seniors who have put in a lifetime of hard work and deserve to enjoy their golden years. That's what Medicare is all about," the president said in his weekly radio and Internet address.
"That's why we need to strengthen and preserve it for future generations," he continued. "And as long as I have the honor of serving as your President, that's exactly what I'll do."
Medicare emerged as a campaign issue earlier this month, when Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney chose Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin as his running mate.
Ryan is known for his broad and controversial plan to reduce government spending, which included a reform of Medicare, whose costs are projected to increase to over $920 billion a year by 2020, threatening the program's solvency.
Ryan's plan calls for keeping Medicare unchanged only for people aged 55 and over and introducing a voucher option for the younger generation.
Under the plan, the vouchers would be used to purchase private health insurance.
But Obama argued the Republican plan would hurt rather than help the senior.
"That means that instead of being guaranteed Medicare, seniors would get a voucher to buy insurance, but it wouldn't keep up with costs," he said. "As a result, one plan would force seniors to pay an extra $6,400 a year for the same benefits they get now. And it would effectively end Medicare as we know it."
The president said he was willing to work with anyone to keep improving the current system.
"But I refuse to do anything that undermines the basic idea of Medicare as a guarantee for seniors who get sick," he said.