Fact-Checking PolitiFact On Its "Lie Of The Year"

December 20, 2011 2:19 pm ET

Earlier in the year, Republicans in the House overwhelmingly voted on a budget proposal crafted by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI). Ryan's radical piece of "right-wing social engineering," as Newt Gingrich once referred to it, aims to, among other things, convert both the Medicaid and food stamp program into block grants, repeal the Affordable Care Act, and end the single-payer health care system known as Medicare. Unfortunately, the fact checkers at PolitiFact have decided that this indisputable fact — that the Ryan budget ends what Americans have long understood as Medicare, and replaces it with a more expensive and inferior privatized health care system that will be Medicare in name alone — warranted their "Lie of the Year" designation. But PolitiFact is wrong. Republicans have voted to end what all Americans know as Medicare. As economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman writes of PolitiFact's decision, "they've bent over backwards to appear 'balanced.'"

PolitiFact Picks "Republicans Voted To End Medicare" As Its Lie Of The Year

PolitiFact: "Republicans Voted To End Medicare" Is Lie Of The Year. As explained by PolitiFact:

Lie of the Year 2011: 'Republicans voted to end Medicare'

[...]

PolitiFact debunked the Medicare charge in nine separate fact-checks rated False or Pants on Fire, most often in attacks leveled against Republican House members.

Now, PolitiFact has chosen the Democrats' claim as the 2011 Lie of the Year. [PolitiFact, 12/20/11]

The Republican Budget Will Replace Medicare With An Expensive And Inadequate Voucher Program

"The Path To Prosperity" Turns Medicare Into A Voucher System. From "The Path to Prosperity":

Save Medicare for current and future generations while making no changes for those in and near retirement. For younger workers, when they reach eligibility, Medicare will provide a Medicare payment and a list of guaranteed coverage options from which recipients can choose a plan that best suits their needs. These future Medicare beneficiaries will be able to choose a plan the same way members of Congress do. Medicare will provide additional assistance for lower-income beneficiaries and those with greater health risks. [The Path To Prosperity, 4/5/11, emphasis added]

Medicare Is Different Than Voucher Program Proposed By Ryan. As Nobel Prize-winning economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman explained:

Medicare is a government-run insurance system that directly pays health-care providers. Vouchercare would cut checks to insurance companies instead. Specifically, the program would pay a fixed amount toward private health insurance - higher for the poor, lower for the rich, but not varying at all with the actual level of premiums. If you couldn't afford a policy adequate for your needs, even with the voucher, that would be your problem.

And most seniors wouldn't be able to afford adequate coverage. A Congressional Budget Office analysis found that to get coverage equivalent to what they have now, older Americans would have to pay vastly more out of pocket under the Paul Ryan plan than they would if Medicare as we know it was preserved. Based on the budget office estimates, the typical senior would end up paying around $6,000 more out of pocket in the plan's first year of operation. [New York Times, 6/5/11]

CBO: Under The GOP Budget, "Most Elderly People Would Pay More For Their Health Care Than They Would Pay Under The Current Medicare System." According to the Congressional Budget Office: "Under the proposal, most elderly people would pay more for their health care than they would pay under the current Medicare system. For a typical 65-year-old with average health spending enrolled in a plan with benefits similar to those currently provided by Medicare, CBO estimated the beneficiary's spending on premiums and out-of-pocket expenditures as a share of a benchmark: what total health care spending would be if a private insurer covered the beneficiary. By 2030, the beneficiary's spending would be 68 percent of that benchmark under the proposal, 25 percent under the extended-baseline scenario, and 30 percent under the alternative fiscal scenario." [CBO.gov, 4/5/11]

Politico: GOP Budget "Will Control Costs By Requiring Seniors To Ration Themselves." From Politico Pulse: "The Ryan plan to privatize Medicare will control costs by requiring seniors to ration themselves, said Michael Tanner with the Cato Institute. 'Rationing is going to go on within the Medicare system. It's a fact of life' given financial constraints, he said. 'The question's going to be, is that decision going to be made by government and imposed top down under the current system? Ryan wants to shift that responsibility to individuals and from the bottom up.'" [Politico, 4/7/11]

CEPR: The Republican Budget Would Leave "Seniors With A Bill Of $20,700." According Dean Baker, the co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research:

According to the CBO analysis the benefit would cover 32 percent of the cost of a health insurance package equivalent to the current Medicare benefit (Figure 1). This means that the beneficiary would pay 68 percent of the cost of this package. Using the CBO assumption of 2.5 percent annual inflation, the voucher would have grown to $9,750 by 2030. This means that a Medicare type plan for someone age 65 would be $30,460 under Representative Ryan's plan, leaving seniors with a bill of $20,700. (This does not count various out of pocket medical expenditures not covered by Medicare.)

According to the Social Security trustees, the benefit for a medium wage earner who first starts collecting benefits at age 65 in 2030 would be $32,200. (This adjusts the benefit projected by the Social Security trustees [$19,652 in 2010 dollars] for the 2.5 percent annual inflation rate assumed by CBO.) For close to 70 percent of seniors, Social Security is more than half of their retirement income. Most seniors will get a benefit that is less than the medium earners benefit described here since their average earnings are less than that of a medium earner and they start collecting Social Security benefits before age 65.

[CEPR.net, 4/6/11]

In 2022, A Typical 65-Year-Old Would Be Paying Approximately Double Compared To Current Levels. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities prepared a graphic comparing health care spending for a typical 65-year-old under the current system to the same spending under the Republican budget:

[CBPP.org, 4/7/11]

Ryan Budget Would Raise The Retirement Age To 67, Possibly Pricing Some Seniors Out Of The Market Or Raising Health Care Prices For All Americans. According Time magazine's Swampland blog:

Even more vexing, however, is how 65- and 66-year-olds would get coverage. Although Ryan doesn't say so in the Path to Prosperity document, which was released on Tuesday, his plan would raise the Medicare eligibility age from 65 to 67 by 2033. This would save the federal government money, but if these people shop for coverage on the open market, one of two things will happen: insurers will either price them out, or drive up prices for everyone. Again, this depends on what Ryan would propose to do with the health care law's new insurance regulations. [Time¸ 4/6/11]

If Medical Costs Continued To Increase Faster Than Voucher Values, "The Average Retiree Would Be More Than $50,000 In The Hole." According to an op-ed in the Huffington Post  by R.J. Eskow, Senior Fellow with The Campaign For America's Future:

Even if the voucher is given full Medicare value in Year One (which we question), things start to get really bad after that. If medical costs continued to increase at 9% each year, which isn't at all impossible, and the voucher's value continued to increase at 5%, here's what would happen 10 years later using my figures:

By 2031, the cost of Medicare-equivalent coverage would be $73,000, and the voucher would be worth $18,000. By my calculation, the average retiree would be more than $50,000 in the hole. [Eskow Op-Ed, 4/6/11 via Huffington Post, emphasis original]

Ryan's Budget "Would Effectively Result In More Rationing On The Basis Of Income." According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities:

Many future Medicare beneficiaries with modest incomes, such as elderly widows who must live on $15,000 or $20,000 a year, also would likely be hit by the plan's Medicare provisions; the Medicare voucher (or defined contribution) they would receive would fall farther and farther behind health care costs - and purchase less and less coverage - with each passing year. Aggravating this problem, Ryan has said that his plan calls for repeal of a key measure of the health reform law that is designed to moderate Medicare costs - the Independent Payment Advisory Board. In other words, his plan would scrap mechanisms to slow growth in the costs of health care services that Medicare beneficiaries need, even as it cuts back the portion of those costs that Medicare would cover.

Affluent Medicare beneficiaries surely would respond to shrinking Medicare coverage over time by buying more supplemental coverage. Those who could not afford to do so, however, would get less health care. This is another way that the Ryan health care changes would make ours more of a two-tier health care system and would effectively result in more rationing on the basis of income.

[CBPP.org, 4/6/11]

Centrist Think-Tank: Despite Ryan's Claim, "Current Beneficiaries Are Not Protected In The Ryan Budget." According to a report from Third Way by David B. Kendall, Senior Fellow for Health and Fiscal Policy and Ryan McConaghy, Director of the Economic Program:

Despite promises to the contrary, current beneficiaries are not protected in the Ryan budget. Under the Republican proposal, traditional Medicare would quickly become second-class medicine. It would "wither on the vine," as then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich described a similar GOP effort in 1995.

The traditional Medicare plan, which covers three-fourths of today's beneficiaries, relies on its huge size to keep costs down. Doctors and hospitals are not required to participate in it, but they have little choice if they wish to treat any seniors, who are the nation's biggest health care consumers.

Fewer doctors would participate in the traditional Medicare plan if there were an alternative. The traditional plan pays physicians about 20% less than private health insurance plans. Today, that is essentially a discount for the large volume of Medicare patients. Under the Ryan budget, it would become a reason for doctors to leave the traditional plan.

By 2030, only 55% of Medicare beneficiaries would still be eligible for traditional Medicare according CBO. Actual enrollment would be less than half of Medicare beneficiaries because many seniors would continue to enroll in private health care coverage under Medicare Advantage. By 2040, traditional Medicare would have only about 20% of Medicare beneficiaries.

[ThirdWay.org, 4/14/11, internal citations removed for clarity]

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