Republican presidential candidates touched on how they would change the Medicare program during their third debate Wednesday night in Colorado, which was hosted by CNBC and focused on economic issues.
There was also a short discussion about prescription drug prices, but the Affordable Care Act was barely mentioned at all.
Retired neurosurgeon Dr. Ben Carson was asked about his Medicare plan, which until recently called for abolishing the program and replacing it with health savings accounts.
Carson, who has performed well in recent polling, has said the plan has changed to allow seniors to opt out of Medicare and offer them a better alternative. He repeated that point on Wednesday, and said the program spends too much each year per beneficiary.
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush had recently outlined a plan for Medicare that included a premium-support method. Donald Trump has defended Medicare, but has not explained what changes, if any, he might make. Neither Bush nor Trump elaborated on their proposals during the debate.
Ohio Gov. John Kasich criticized candidates who say they would severely cut or eliminate Medicare.
“You don't scare senior citizens with that,” Kasich said. “It's irresponsible.”
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee repeated statements he has made at previous debates, calling for healthcare to focus on preventing and treating heart disease, cancer, diabetes and Alzheimer's disease. He maintained that theme later in the Colorado debate, saying the way to fix Medicare is to focus on chronic diseases.
“We don't have a healthcare crisis in America, we have a health crisis,” Huckabee said.
When Carson was asked about high-priced prescription drugs, a recent talking point among Democratic candidates, he avoided naming names or addressing specific pharmaceutical companies. He said regulations against companies in general should decrease.
But, he added, “There's no question that some people go overboard when they try to make profits and they don't think about the American people.”
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said the government should not run pharmaceutical companies, and that price-gouging laws already on the books should be enforced if necessary.
Carson was also asked about his connection to Mannatech, a Texas-based nutrition supplement company that has faced charges of exaggerating the health effects of its products by claiming they have helped in the treatment of life-threatening illnesses.
He said he did not have a connection with Mannatech, but went on to confirm that he was paid for speeches about the company's products. He said he did not give permission for his picture to appear on the company's website.
Former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina mentioned recent pharmaceutical and health insurance company mergers, saying big government favors the big and powerful, while crushing small businesses.