Mostly True
Democratic Party of Wisconsin
Says Ron Johnson voted to turn Medicare "into a voucher program."

Democratic Party of Wisconsin on Wednesday, May 4th, 2016 in a radio ad

Sen. Ron Johnson voted for Paul Ryan plans to make Medicare a voucher program, Democratic Party says

Speaking to students at Carroll University near Milwaukee in 2014, Paul Ryan said future tax rates needed to support Medicare are unsustainable. (Rick Wood photo)

In 2011, after the U.S. House of Representatives approved a federal budget pushed by Wisconsin Republican Paul Ryan, Democrats repeatedly claimed that Republicans had "voted to end Medicare."

That became PolitiFact National’s Lie of the Year.

Ryan, now the House speaker, has continued to advance Medicare reform proposals. And now the Wisconsin Democratic Party is making an attack -- though with a claim that doesn’t go nearly as far as the lie of the year.

In a radio ad released May 4, 2016, the party said GOP U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson "went after Medicare, voting to turn it into a voucher program."

It’s an attack that is likely to be repeated as Democrat Russ Feingold seeks to take back the Senate seat from Johnson in the November 2016 election.

So, did Johnson vote to make Medicare "a voucher program"?

There’s some argument over semantics between voucher and premium supports, a term preferred by Republicans.

But the answer is: Pretty much.

Paul Ryan budgets

To back its claim, the state Democratic party cited Johnson’s votes for Ryan’s budget proposals, which included the Medicare reforms.

Those budgets, which did not become law, prompted Democrats to charge that Ryan wanted to turn Medicare into a voucher program.

Our colleagues have consistently rated those claims Mostly True.

As PolitiFact National has explained:

The initial Ryan plan using the term premium supports was released in early 2011. Medicare would have changed from a program that pays doctors and hospitals fees for particular services to one in which beneficiaries would be paid an amount by the government that they could use toward private insurance premiums. It would have affected people who at the time were under 55.

Ryan then updated versions of the plan, including one as part of his fiscal year 2013 budget proposal. That newer version would have allowed beneficiaries under 55 a choice -- they could use their payment to buy private insurance or for a plan that acts like traditional Medicare.

So, the main point is that Medicare would change from paying fees to doctors and hospitals, and instead beneficiaries would get a fixed subsidy toward their coverage.

That’s a big change.

Johnson’s campaign argues that the change wouldn’t be a voucher and emphasizes that what Republicans call premium support payments would be made to insurance companies, not to Medicare beneficiaries themselves.

Our colleagues concluded that, although there are technical differences between voucher and premium supports that may matter to health policy professionals, the two definitions have become almost indistinguishable and voucher program is a fair description for what Ryan proposed.

Our rating

The state Democratic Party says Johnson voted to turn Medicare "into a voucher program."

To some health policy experts, there are technical differences between voucher and premium supports -- the latter term being preferred by Johnson and other Republicans when it comes to Medicare changes.

But under Ryan’s proposals, Medicare would no longer pay fees to health care providers -- instead, Medicare beneficiaries would get a fixed subsidy to use toward their health care.

We rate the statement Mostly True.

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