Fact Check: Dems Lie about Ryan's Medicare Plan
Printer-friendly versionPDF version
a a
 
Type Size: Small
The Fiscal Times
August 15, 2012

Democrats have either decided that lying to the American public is perfectly OK, or they haven’t done their homework. I’m not sure which is worse. Since the announcement that Wisconsin Representative Paul Ryan was Mitt Romney’s VP choice, Democrats from campaign manager Jim Messina to former Governor Howard Dean have flooded the airwaves decrying Ryan’s proposals to reform Medicare. That’s perfectly acceptable--Ryan’s plan is fair game--except when the Dems lie about it, or, at best, ignorantly get the story wrong. Is that what we have come to?

Right out of the starting gate, Messina sent out an email blasting Mitt Romney's vice presidential running mate, saying that his “plan also would end Medicare as we know it by turning it into a voucher system, shifting thousands of dollars in health care costs to seniors." According to FactCheck.org, “Democrats are still hammering an old, and since replaced, GOP proposal, claiming it would ‘end Medicare,’ and cost seniors $6,000 more a year for their health care.”

A quick rundown of the latest Ryan plan from FactCheck.org

For seniors who are now in Medicare, nothing changes. They can stay with the traditional program as it is.
Beginning in 2023, 65-year-olds would have their choice of insurance plans — private and traditional — on a new Medicare exchange. A premium-support payment, like a subsidy, would be sent to the plan of their choice.
If the chosen plan costs more than the premium-support, the senior would pay the difference.
The Medicare eligibility age would be slowly raised to 67 by 2034.
All plans on the Medicare exchange would offer a base level of benefits, and they would be regulated by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
The premium-support payments would be tied to the second-cheapest plan, which can’t grow more than gross domestic product plus 0.5 percentage points. If the cost does grow faster, Congress would be required to step in and take some action to keep costs down.

The newest Republican budget, proposed by Ryan, keeps traditional Medicare — unlike his plan from 2011 — and the increased cost claim is no longer applicable. Ryan’s current plan offers a “premium support” alternative, where seniors would be granted a certain amount of money to use for Medicare, which would continue in its present form, or for alternative programs.

Also, as has been made abundantly clear by those interested in a fair discussion, none of Ryan’s suggestions would impact today’s retirees – or indeed anyone who is 55 or older. His plan does not kick in for ten years; a decade during which Medicare’s trustees, by the way, say the plan will not be “adequately financed.” A decade that will bring us to 2024, when the trust fund will go bankrupt.  Yes, this is a program, as even President Obama has said, that begs for reform.

The Fiscal Times FREE Newsletter

Newsletter

On Larry Kudlow’s show Monday night, Democrat Howard Dean made similar remarks, claiming that Ryan wants to transform Medicare into a voucher program. David Axlerod repeated the canard on CNN, as did DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz. While it is certainly appealing to Democrats to sing in unison, does anyone care that the refrain is false? Do they even know it?

If they are truly ignorant of the Ryan plan, shame on them. Medicare is the United States’ single biggest fiscal problem. Its trajectory is menacing, as it is projected under the most realistic scenario to grow from 3.7 percent to 5.7 percent of GDP by 2035, swamping all other federal programs. It is mammoth, which is why the Obama administration plans to suck $700 billion from Medicare over the next decade to support expanded free healthcare to millions of Americans. It is the only place to look for the money.

It is also unsustainable. Reforming Medicare has to be the most important and challenging policy issue of our time. Paul Ryan is nearly alone in having tried to tackle this behemoth, and in proposing a detailed solution. His colleagues in Congress – on the Left and the Right -- have been terrified of stepping on this “third rail.” Still, he has received some support from across the aisle.

Oregon Senator Ron Wyden, to his credit, worked with Ryan last year to come up with solutions to our Medicare dilemma, finding common ground in advocating for adding competitive systems into the mix. By contrast, Mr. Obama’s answer is to impose a 30 percent cut on doctor reimbursement rates starting next year – a fee reduction that would sharply reduce the number of physicians accepting Medicare patients, and that, most important, will never be enacted. Through Obamacare, the president has also appointed an unelected board to rein in costs, presumably through deciding which treatments are cost-effective and which are simply too expensive. (In other words, by imposing rationing.) 

Democrats don’t have to agree with Mr. Ryan’s approach. But they should at least understand it. We expect doctors to be on top of new drugs, and we expect mechanics to keep up with new engine designs. Why shouldn’t we expect our legislators to read and study new ideas for solving our nation’s most pressing issues?

What about President Obama? He’s the one who once said, “We’re not going to be able to do anything about these entitlements if what we do is characterize whatever proposals are out there as, ‘Well, that’s the other party being irresponsible, the other party trying to hurt our senior citizens.’” He’s right, of course, but his colleagues and campaign staff don’t seem to be on board.

Surely Mr. Obama must be dismayed that his campaign makes him look like the incredible shrinking president. He must mind that its focus is tiny while our problems are vast. His plan to end trillion-dollar deficits comes down to raising taxes on 3 percent of Americans. No wonder the most-used word in describing the Ryan pick is “bold.” There is nothing bold coming out of the Obama camp. But there is plenty that is misleading.

President Obama, who promised to end “politics as we know it,” has encouraged, or at least allowed, his campaign to devolve into one of the most offensive and insubstantial contests on record. Personal attacks have drowned out policy. Democrats think this path is a winning one, pointing to polls in the past few weeks that show Obama moving ahead.  

Researchers at ISI group dispute this.  They took a “deep dive” into recent polls, and concluded that this “race is extremely close” and that it hasn’t changed much in recent weeks. They analyzed surveys from several sources, including Gallup, Reuters, Pew and Fox, and concluded that pollsters (knowingly or not) have been skewing the surveys by including more Democrats into the mix.

This is reassuring news. The personal attacks on Romney have been nauseating; the public shouldn’t buy it.  Americans may actually vote for the team that attacks our country’s important issues, just as they did in 2010. They may actually vote for the guys who have a plan. I certainly hope so. 

After more than two decades on Wall Street as a top-ranked research analyst, Liz Peek became a columnist and political analyst. Aside from The Fiscal Times, she writes for FoxNews.com, The New York Sun and Women on the Web.