A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Medicare Misrepresentation

The liberal group Patriot Majority distorts a Republican plan to change Medicare, claiming the GOP proposal says “no to Medicare, no to seniors.”

The plan proposed by Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin would radically change Medicare, but it wouldn’t put an end to government health care for seniors. Instead, it proposes a new program starting in 2022.

The attack comes in two ads airing in Montana and Missouri and designed to counter ads launched by the conservative Crossroads GPS. The Crossroads ads, which target Democratic Sens. Jon Tester and Claire McCaskill, are part of a $20 million campaign, and they include a few misleading claims. But Patriot Majority’s pushback also misleads viewers.

The ads began airing July 22 on a one-week, $150,000 buy. They refer to Ryan’s plan to overhaul Medicare when they show MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell saying “the Republican budget repeals Medicare.” The ads truncate a line from a Wall Street Journal article, claiming the newspaper said the GOP plan would “essentially end Medicare.” But the full sentence said the plan would end Medicare “as a program that directly pays” seniors’ health care bills.

Wall Street Journal, April 4: The plan would essentially end Medicare, which now pays most of the health-care bills for 48 million elderly and disabled Americans, as a program that directly pays those bills.

The last lines of the ad — “no to Medicare, no to seniors. That’s the Republican plan.” — also give the false impression that the GOP plan offers nothing to the elderly.

The Ryan budget plan, which passed the House in April and was rejected by the Senate in May, proposes drastic changes to Medicare for those who are now younger than 55. But it doesn’t eliminate health care for seniors in the future. Other Democratic messages have misrepresented the plan, which would:

  • Keep the traditional Medicare program for those who are 55 and older by the end of 2011.
  • Provide subsidies (or “premium-support payments,” in Ryan’s words) for new beneficiaries, starting in 2022, to buy private insurance on a new Medicare exchange.
  • Require plans on the exchange to cover everyone who wants insurance, offer a standard set of benefits, and charge the same premium for those of the same age.
  • Increase eligibility for Medicare to age 67 by 2033.

The average subsidy would be $8,000 in 2022, with high-income earners being required to pay more than other beneficiaries and low-income individuals getting government-financed medical savings accounts.

It’s a controversial plan that cuts Medicare spending. It’s true, as the ad mentions, that seniors are expected to pay more under the plan than they would under the current Medicare program, $6,000 more for a typical 65-year-old in 2022, according to estimates from the Congressional Budget Office. A TV clip in the ad gives an accurate assessment in saying that the plan “ends Medicare as we know it” (emphasis added). But the Patriot Majority ads give a misleading impression of the GOP plan when they claim it simply says “no to seniors.”

— Lori Robertson