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Tom Kertscher
By Tom Kertscher June 10, 2011

Democratic Wisconsin state Rep. Sandy Pasch says GOP U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget plan would end health care for seniors

When some Democrats look at the federal budget plan proposed by House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., it’s as if they’ve caught sight of a tiki bar at the end of a hot summer day.

They aren’t envisioning fruity drinks with tiny umbrellas, but rather electoral victories. The Democrats see Ryan’s plan, particularly its changes to Medicare, as distasteful to voters and therefore an advantage for their party.

As evidence, they point to Democrat Kathy Hochul’s upset win in a western New York congressional race that was dominated by Ryan’s Medicare plan. That special election was held May 24, 2011, less than two months after Ryan released his plan, which would convert Medicare into a "premium-support payment" program starting in 2022.  

On June 6, 2011, Wisconsin state Rep. Sandy Pasch, D-Whitefish Bay, was asked in an online chat how Ryan would affect elections on another level.

Pasch is running in a recall election against state Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, who aims to retain a seat she has held since 1992. It is one of an unprecedented nine state senator recall elections that will be held in Wisconsin in July 2011.

In the chat, which was sponsored by Blue America, a political action committee that says it works to elect progressives, a questioner asked:

"I just read that (Wisconsin Democratic Party Chairman) Mike Tate says that Paul Ryan will be a central focus in the recall elections. I hadn't heard that before. Will it work? Is it that connected in people's minds? Or is it too abstract for the average voter to make the connection?"

Pasch, a second-term lawmaker who formerly worked as a nurse and nursing professor for 30 years, gave this response:

"I think that Paul Ryan is the face of the radical plan to dismantle Medicare and Medicaid. People across Wisconsin depend on and like Medicare. If you stand with Paul Ryan, you stand with the promise to end health care for our seniors. It's not just a policy issue, it's a values issue."

So, according to Pasch, Ryan promised to end health care for senior citizens.

No health care? That would be one stiff drink to swallow.

Before we assess Pasch’s defense of her claim, a little background.

Ryan’s budget -- passed by the GOP-controlled House, 235-193, but defeated in the Democrat-controlled Senate, 57-40 -- would make dramatic changes to Medicare if it ever became law.

As it exists now, Medicare is government health insurance for people age 65 and over and for people under 65 with certain disabilities. It helps pay for doctor visits, inpatient and outpatient hospital care, other services and prescription drugs.

Under Ryan’s plan, people who turn 65 before 2022 would remain in traditional Medicare, according to an analysis by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. Those who turn 65 in 2022 or after, the budget office said, would get a "premium support payment" from Medicare. Rather than getting health insurance from the government, Medicare recipients would use the payment toward the cost of buying private health insurance.

That’s a major change. Moreover, the Congressional Budget Office concluded that future Medicare recipients "would pay more for their health care than they would pay under the current Medicare system."

But when declared that Ryan’s budget "abolishes Medicare within 10 years," the left-leaning political advocacy group earned a False from us, given that Medicare would change but not go away.

Other critics, including U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, haven’t gone as far, arguing instead that Ryan’s plan would end Medicare "as we know it." But when Wasserman Schultz also claimed that under Ryan’s Medicare, insurance companies could "deny you coverage and drop you for pre-existing conditions," she got a False from our colleagues at PolitiFact National.

Yet Pasch goes even further, claiming Ryan has promised to "end health care for our seniors." Not just Medicare, but "health care."

Now to Pasch’s defense.

Pasch’s campaign manager, Phil Walzak, argued in an email to us that, under Ryan’s proposal, Medicare recipients would "lose a guaranteed set of health benefits" because they would instead receive money to be used toward buying private health insurance. He also predicted that Medicare recipients would get fewer benefits even though they would be paying more for their health care. He cited analyses by the Center for Economic and Policy Research and the National Academy of Social Insurance.

For her part, Pasch herself was more measured in an interview with PolitiFact Wisconsin than she was in the online chat, saying Ryan’s plan "is clearly a move toward not promising health care to seniors." She went on to say that as senior citizens are forced to pay more for health insurance, they will "start neglecting their health care."

It’s time for the tab from our political tiki bar.

Pasch originally claimed that Ryan promised to end health care for seniors and now she says his Medicare plan is a "move toward not promising health care to seniors." That’s quite a step back from the original claim. Moreover, we’ve established that, although it’s expected that senior citizens would pay more for health care under Ryan’s plan, they would still have health care.

At PolitiFact, we have a name for the drink that’s made by mixing false and ridiculous. It’s called Pants on Fire, and that’s what we rate Pasch’s claim.

Featured Fact-check

Our Sources

Blue America, online chat, June 6, 2011, "July 12: The next Ryan referendum?," June 6, 2011

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Ryan plan at nub of House election upset," May 25, 2011

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Recall elections set for 3 Democratic senators," June 8, 2011

PolitiFact Wisconsin, " says proposed House Republican budget abolishes Medicare in 10 years," April 11, 2011

Email interview, House Budget Committee communications director Conor Sweeney, June 6 and 7, 2011

U.S. House Budget Committee, "The Path to Prosperity" fiscal 2012 budget resolution, April 5, 2011

Wisconsin Legislature, Rep. Sandy Pasch biography

Sandy Pasch 2011 Senate campaign website

Wisconsin Legislature, Alberta Darling biography

Alberta Darling 2011 Senate campaign website

Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services website, Overview page, Medicare Benefits page

Congressional Budget Office, analysis of "The Path to Prosperity," April 5, 2011

Associated Press, "In political gesture, Senate rejects controversial House budget," May 25, 2011, "House passes Ryan’s ’12 budget; conservatives want more cuts," April 15, 2011

Interview and email interview, Sandy Pasch campaign spokesman Phil Walzak, June 7, 2011

Interview, Sandy Pasch, June 7, 2011

Congressional Budget Office, analysis of "The Path to Prosperity," April 5, 2011, "Debbie Wasserman Schultz says Ryan Medicare plan would allow insurers to use pre-existing conditions as barrier to coverage," June 1, 2011

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More by Tom Kertscher

Democratic Wisconsin state Rep. Sandy Pasch says GOP U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget plan would end health care for seniors

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