A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

DNC Chair Throws Truth to ‘Wolves’


Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz falsely claimed that seniors with preexisting medical conditions would be denied Medicare coverage under the GOP's plan. The House GOP plan specifically says insurance companies “must agree to offer insurance to all Medicare beneficiaries.” 

She also repeated a false Democratic talking point that future beneficiaries — those who are now younger than 55 — would be left on their own to buy insurance in the private market. The GOP plan, as we have written before, would provide subsidies for future beneficiaries to buy private insurance from a Medicare exchange set up by the government. 

Wasserman Schultz, the new chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, made her comments May 29 on "Face the Nation."

Wasserman Schultz, May 29: What they would do is 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 — 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 preexisting conditions. We’re going to give you 'x' amount of dollars and you figure it out."

She is simply wrong to say that the GOP plan would allow insurance companies to "throw you to the wolves and allow insurance companies to deny you coverage and drop you for preexisting conditions."

The Republican plan — dubbed "Path to Prosperity" by its chief architect, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin — would make no changes in Medicare for those 55 and older. But it would make significant changes to Medicare for those younger than 55 — just not as described by the Florida Democrat. The plan would provide future beneficiaries with government subsidies to purchase health insurance through a Medicare exchange set up by the government.  

Path to Prosperity: Health plans that choose to participate in the Medicare exchange must agree to offer insurance to all Medicare beneficiaries, to avoid cherry-picking and ensure that Medicare’s sickest and highest-cost beneficiaries receive coverage.

DNC spokesman Hari Sevugan said "we stand by the statement" that the GOP plan would deny coverage to future beneficiaries with preexisting conditions. Sevugan provided excerpts of testimony given April 5 by Michael F. Cannon, director of health policy studies at the libertarian CATO Institute, at a hearing of a House oversight subcommittee. But in that testimony, Cannon said that "all seniors under the chairman's proposal, as I understand it, will be able to obtain health insurance coverage." And those with preexisting conditions "will get larger vouchers" because payments will be "risk-adjusted so that people with severe illnesses will get larger vouchers."

Sevugan made the point that the government subsidies — or "vouchers," as Cannon calls them — won't keep up with insurance premiums and, as a result, seniors would be forced to go without coverage. But that's not what the DNC chairwoman said. She said the GOP plan would allow private insurers to "drop you for preexisting conditions," and that's just not true.

Wasserman Schultz also misrepresents Ryan’s plan when she says it tells future beneficiaries: "You’re on your own. Go and find private health insurance." This mischaracterization of Ryan's plan has become a Democratic talking point — one we wrote about when President Barack Obama made a similar inaccurate claim. As we described earlier, Ryan’s plan would provide federal subsidies to private insurance from a government-created Medicare exchange.

It's fair game to debate whether the subsidies are adequate to cover insurance costs. But it's wrong to say that the GOP plan would "throw you to the wolves and allow insurance companies to deny you coverage."