Democrats are distorting the fundamentals of a Republican plan to reshape Medicare, falsely accusing the GOP of pushing a proposal that tells the elderly "you're on your own" with health care and that lets insurers deny coverage to the sick.
Medicare always pushes hot buttons with voters. Both parties know this and spare no effort to exploit the issue, with truth as the frequent casualty. That's the case now as Democrats go after a far-reaching plan introduced by Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and largely embraced by congressional Republicans.
The new chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., led the charge this week in an appearance on CBS' "Face the Nation." The DNC and its Republican counterpart are the primary money-raisers in politics and often temples of exaggeration as they convert controversy into cash for the campaigns.
A look at Wasserman Schultz's statements and how they compare with the facts:
WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: "They would take the people who are younger than 55 years old today and tell them: `You know what, you're on your own. Go and find private health insurance in the health care insurance market; we're going to throw you to the wolves and allow insurance companies to deny you coverage and drop you for pre-existing conditions. We're going to give you X amount of dollars, and you figure it out.'"
THE FACTS: First, the Ryan plan explicitly forbids insurance companies from denying coverage to anyone who qualifies for Medicare, including those who have pre-existing illnesses. Second, it does not merely send money to the elderly and leave them to their own devices in arranging for medical care.
The plan calls for Medicare to stay the same for people 55 and older. But starting in 2022, new beneficiaries would get their health insurance from competing private insurers instead of from the government. The government would offer subsidies to pay for the coverage and set standards that insurers must follow. One condition, says the plan, is that participating insurers "agree to offer insurance to all Medicare beneficiaries, to avoid cherry-picking and ensure that Medicare's sickest and highest-cost beneficiaries receive coverage."
Nor would the government merely send "X amount of dollars" to the elderly and let them figure out whether they can afford coverage. The subsidies would go to the plan selected by the beneficiary. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, in analyzing the plan, said it would not let insurers charge more to sick people. Premiums would be the same for everyone of the same age.
The Ryan plan raises plenty of questions about costs to the elderly over time and the adequacy of care. The Congressional Budget Office said future retirees would pay more under Ryan's plan than if they went into traditional Medicare. By 2030, a typical 65-year-old would be paying two-thirds of his or her health costs.
But Wasserman Schultz and some other Democrats who accuse the GOP of wanting to "end Medicare" have skipped past the complicated crux of that debate, instead attacking provisions that do not exist.