FACT CHECK: Ryan Demagogues Health Reform, Misrepresents Premium Support Plan

During an appearance on Fox News Sunday, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) pledged to reintroduce his plan to privatize Medicare as part of the GOP’s budget plan in March. “I would simply say, there’s an emerging bipartisan consensus that we’re on the right track,” Ryan told host Chris Wallace. “And the point is, we should be offering solutions to our problems in our country. We shouldn’t just be demagoguing other people and offering no solution.”

Ryan would do well to follow his own advise, as the indignant House Budget Committee chairman grossly misrepresented the Affordable Care Act and the details of his own Medicare premium support solution. Below is a brief fact check:

CLAIM — MEDICARE WILL GO BANKRUPT: “The Congressional Budget Office also says Medicare is going bankrupt in 2021. The trustees at Medicare say that there’s $37 trillion unfunded liability.”

FACT: The CBO says that one part of Medicare — Part A or hospital insurance — will become “insolvent,” not bankrupt. Dedicated revenues will not be sufficient to pay all of its bills and the hospital fund will meet about 90 percent of its commitments, rather than the full 100 percent. In the succeeding years that shortfall will slowly widen and then contract, so that in 2085, Medicare could pay out 88 percent of its obligations, the program’s trustees conclude. The savings in the ACA — lowering annual payment updates to providers — has actually extended the life of the trust fund by nine years.

CLAIM — NOTHING CHANGES FOR CURRENT SENIORS: “If you take a look at our reforms, which don’t change any Medicare benefits for a person 55 or above, and says for people 54 and below, when they’ll retire, they’ll have a list of guaranteed coverage options over by Medicare just like we do it in Congress and federal employees have, and we’re not going to subsidize the wealthy as much as everybody else.”

FACT: It’s likely that beneficiaries 55 and older would see changes in their Medicare benefits. In 2022, newly-eligible seniors would have to enroll in a private plan, but existing beneficiaries (those who are over 55 today) would also have the option of leaving traditional Medicare. That opens up the possibilities of private plans trying to lure away the healthiest beneficiaries (as is currently the case in Medicare Advantage) and of health care providers abandoning traditional Medicare patients for the higher reimbursement rates of private insurers. For chronically ill seniors who are more likely to remain in fee-for-service Medicare this means two things: higher costs (as the healthier beneficiaries exit the risk pool) and fewer doctors. Ryan’s proposal also does not resemble the “coverage options” of federal employees, because his “premium support” payments do not keep up with health care costs. The FEHBP’s do.

CLAIM — ACA WILL RATION CARE: “Put that in comparison to the president’s health care law. This year, he appoints 15 unelected, unaccountable bureaucrats to a board called the IPAD, Independent Payment Advisory Board, and their job is to put price controls and therefore rationing on Medicare for current seniors. So, the president’s law takes half a trillion dollars out of Medicare to spend on Obamacare and now he’s putting this new rationing board in place, which will lead to denied care to current seniors.”

FACT: The 15 members of the IPAB are appointed by the President, but confirmed by the Senate. The group is tasked with making binding recommendations to reduce expenditures in the Medicare system, unless Congress acts to alter the proposal or discontinue automatic implementation. Significantly, their proposal to reduce spending cannot “include any recommendation to ration health care, raise revenues or Medicare beneficiary premiums…increase Medicare beneficiary cost- sharing (including deductibles, coinsurance, and co- payments), or otherwise restrict benefits or modify eligibility criteria” (Section 3403 (page 409) of the Affordable Care Act stipulates.)