Fact-checking the fact-checkers

I don’t know why, but when it comes to entitlement questions, ordinarily reliable fact-checking organizations can’t seem to get it right. For instance, PolitiFact gave a DCCC ad their worst rating – Pants on Fire – for saying that Rep. Paul Ryan’s plan to change Medicare from a single-payer plan to a voucher system for purchasing private insurance would “end Medicare.” But Ryan’s radical plan – overwhelmingly passed by House Republicans – would end Medicare in everything but name, replacing it with a system that would shift ever-rising health care costs onto the backs of seniors.

As The Washington Monthly’s Steve Benen put it:

Medicare is a single-payer health care system offering guaranteed benefits to seniors. The House Republican budget plan intends to do away with the existing system and replace it with something very different — a privatized voucher plan. It would still be called “Medicare,” but it wouldn’t be Medicare.

Then yesterday, The Associated Press came out with another fact-check item accusing Democrats of distorting the Republican Medicare plan.

Here’s what the AP said:

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 “facts” actually do nothing to refute the Democratic message on what Republicans want to do to Medicare. Sure, plans that participate in this will have to offer insurance to all Medicare-eligible beneficiaries, but as far as I know, Ryan won’t force any insurance companies to participate. And it’s an open question whether there will be a clamoring to get into the health care market serving America’s oldest, sickest segment of population. And it makes no difference at all if the vouchers are given to Medicare recipients or to the plans they select. The fact remains, as AP admits, that the vouchers won’t be sufficient to cover the cost of care: “By 2030, a typical 65-year-old would be paying two-thirds of his or her health costs.”

The facts are this, and Democrats are getting them exactly right: This is a radical plan that would end Medicare as we know it and replace it with an untested system that will do little or nothing to actually slow the increase in health care costs but will those costs onto the Americans who can least afford them.

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