Veep debate: Healthcare fact twisting with feistiness

By Tom Sullivan
10:55 AM

Medicare and Social Security comprised one of the nine segments in Thursday’s night’s fiery debate between Vice President Joe Biden and challenger Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.). The discussion had far more feistiness than the first presidential debate held one week ago, on every topic, not just on healthcare.

But it was replete with the same fact twisting that has sculpted health reform rhetoric on the campaign trail – the notion that Medicare and Medicaid are teetering on bankruptcy, the voucher plan, the phrase “death panel,” and that pesky $716 billion figure.

The consensus: Both politicians said they want Medicare and Medicaid to survive, along with Social Security, and that was where the similarities ceased.

“Medicare and Social Security are going bankrupt,” Ryan shot.  “These are indisputable facts.” And Ryan said a Romney/Ryan ticket would “honor that promise” for today’s senior who paid taxes and planned their retirement believing that Medicare and Social Security would be there.

“You see, if you reform these programs for my generation, people 54 and below,” Ryan continued, “you can guarantee they don't change for people in or near retirement, which is precisely what Mitt Romney and I are proposing.”

Biden fired back that Americans should be wary of such promises. “Now they got a new plan: ‘Trust me, it's not going to cost you any more,’” Biden cracked, then added to voters, “Folks, follow your instincts on this one … Their ideas are old and their ideas are bad, and they eliminate the guarantee of Medicare.”

Ryan argued that President Obama and VP Biden “haven’t put a credible solution on the table,” rather, they’re trying to scare voters with words like “voucher”.

“Here's what we're saying: give younger people, when they become Medicare eligible, guaranteed coverage options that you can't be denied, including traditional Medicare,” Ryan said. Ryan added that Medicare would subsidize premiums with coverage tiered such that wealthy people receive less, middle-income people get more coverage and the government would provide “total out-of-pocket” coverage for the poor.

“Choice and competition,” Ryan continued. “We would rather have 50 million future seniors determine how their Medicare is delivered to them instead of 15 bureaucrats deciding what, if, when, where they get it.”

Those 15 bureaucrats, of course, comprise the notoriously mis-identified “death panel” that politicians on both sides ostensibly refuse to explain as what it is: The Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB), of which explained “the law specifically forbids rationing or restriction of benefits, and the board is quite limited in the scope of the binding, cost-saving recommendations it is allowed to make.”

Yet the IPAB remains among claims so cavalierly tossed around in last week’s Presidential debate, even though they failed to pass fact-checking muster there and so many times before, including the $716 billion figure.

“Look what Obamacare does. Obamacare takes $716 billion from Medicare to spend on Obamacare,” Ryan said. “Even their own chief actuary at Medicare backs this up. He says you can't spend the same dollar twice. You can't claim that this money goes to Medicare and Obamacare.”

In it’s fact-check of the Medicare discussion in Thursday night’s debate, the Washington Post explained that while the “anticipated savings from Medicare were used to help offset some of the anticipated costs of expanding healthcare for all Americans,” Ryan is “playing a rhetorical game here. Federal budget accounting is so complex that it is easy to mislead ordinary Americans — a tactic used by both parties.”

Biden, for his part, spoke as if it already happened. “What we did is, we saved $716 billion and put it back, applied it to Medicare. We cut the cost of Medicare,” the Vice President said. “We stopped overpaying insurance companies, doctors and hospitals. The AMA supported what we did. AARP endorsed what we did. And it extends the life of Medicare to 2024. They want to wipe this all out.”

As the Post explains, the $716 billion is based on anticipated Medicare spending relative to changes the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) could bring. “The savings mostly are wrung from health-care providers,” the Post reports, “not Medicare beneficiaries – who, as a result of the health-care law, ended up with new benefits for preventive care and prescription drugs.”

What will it take for the candidates to move beyond the half-truths shot down by fact-checkers time and again?

Election 2012