WATERVILLE  — Sharp differences emerged over health care, taxes and spending when the five candidates for governor met this morning at a forum sponsored by the Maine Association of Area Agencies on Aging.

Meeting before an audience of more than 100 people at the Spectrum Generations Muskie Center, the candidates fielded a handful of prepared questions aimed at addressing issues facing the elderly.

Not surprisingly, all of the candidates — Republican Paul LePage, Democrat Elizabeth “Libby” Mitchell and independents Eliot Cutler, Shawn Moody and Kevin Scott — voiced strong and repeated support for helping seniors with affordable housing, high living costs, access to health care and preventing physical and financial abuse.

But the candidates disagreed on key details.

Asked to explain the health care benefits to seniors under he new federal Affordable Care Act, the candidates offered very distinct views.

“Nothing,” LePage said flatly, asserting that the new law would take $500 billion in funding out of Medicare, hurting coverage for seniors. “We need Medicare and Medicaid to work for our elderly. … It’s time we the people of America stand up to Obamacare.”

Mitchell said many benefits of the new law won’t be known right away, but one example is it closes the Medicare coverage gap known as the “doughnut hole.” In addition, by extending health insurance coverage to millions more Americans, the law endorses the idea that health care is “a right, not a privilege,” she said.

“This is a hugely important step forward,” Mitchell said.

The unenrolled candidates offered mixed views of the law.

Moody said he would have instead preferred legislation targeting $400 billion of wasteful spending in the health care system. He suggested the creation of a commission that could investigate how to attract more insurance companies, which would offer more choice.

“It’s not a competitive situation,” Moody said. “We need that free-market system.”

Cutler said he has a plan that would ensure “everyone in Maine” has access to essential care services, makes it affordable, and emphasizes prevention and wellness. He said that 25 to 30 cents per $1 spent on health care goes to insurance companies.

In a swipe at LePage, Cutler claimed LePage’s approach was to rely on solely insurance companies. “The answer does not lie in reliance on more health insurance,” he said.

Scott conceded that “I haven’t read the 2,800 pages” of the bill, but said that when money is shifted around there are “always opportunities.” He suggested getting money to community groups that serve people in need.

“I’m certain there are serious deficiencies in that legislation, but I can’t put my finger on them,” Scott said. “There’s an opportunity to go forward with our own ideas and create-community based solutions.”