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By Dave Umhoefer September 7, 2011

Vice President Joe Biden says Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget proposal would eliminate Medicare in 10 years

Addressing donors to President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign at a fundraiser, Vice President Joe Biden described stark choices for voters in 2012.

He painted Obama as a strong leader, gutsy enough to order a covert raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound and to try for a big deal on debt reduction.

In contrast, he said Republicans are headed the wrong direction on Medicare under the reform plan authored by Wisconsin Republican Paul Ryan, chairman of the House Budget Committee.

"These guys have laid it out where they want us to be," Biden told attendees at the event in Tulsa, Okla., on Aug. 30, 2011. "Paul Ryan laid out their budget. Their budget eviscerates -- it eliminates Medicare. They say it doesn't. It makes it a voucher program. I call that eliminating Medicare in the next 10 years."

The remarks -- reported in part on the ABC News website -- echo multiple Democratic attacks on aspects of Ryan’s deficit-cutting 10-year "Path to Prosperity plan. That resolution was passed in the GOP-controlled House  in April 2011 but rejected by the Democrat-controlled Senate a month later.

PolitiFact has not looked favorably on the accuracy of the Democratic charges on Ryan’s proposed transformation of Medicare, which he says is aimed at reducing massive federal deficits and debt.

For example, the national site rated Pants on Fire a Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee claim that "seniors will have to find $12,500 for health care because Republicans voted to end Medicare."

And we rated False a email claim that the House Republican budget "abolishes Medicare within 10 years."

So how do Biden’s comments fare?

Biden minced no words, saying the GOP path "eviscerates" -- that is, guts -- the health care program for the elderly. Then he went further, saying it would be "eliminated" in 10 years.

There is significance to the 10-year mark.

The GOP proposal would, as the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office noted, gradually convert the current Medicare program to a system under which beneficiaries received premium support payments that can be used to help pay for a private health insurance policy.

Beginning in 2022, "all newly-eligible Medicare beneficiaries...would only have access to health coverage through private insurance plans, rather than through the current government-run Medicare program (i.e., traditional Medicare), or under a Medicare Advantage plan," a Kaiser Family Foundation study noted.

That’s a fundamental switch.

Medicare would "no longer provide coverage for medical care, but instead provide a "subsidy" toward the purchase of a private health insurance plan," the Kaiser study said.

The CBO found that the change would save the government money. But it does so by asking future Medicare beneficiaries to pay more for current levels of coverage, PolitiFact has reported from the CBO report.

It’s important to note, the GOP resolution specifically exempts existing beneficiaries and future beneficiaries who are currently 55 and over.

The vice president’s office gave us its view on Biden’s remarks.

Medicare is a "system of guaranteed affordable health insurance for seniors. Preserving Medicare in its current form is a core Democratic value," the office said in an email.

"If you replace the current system with vouchers, or premium support payments, then you are eliminating the principle of guaranteed affordable insurance and thus eliminating Medicare as we know it."

Those last four words are very important -- and were missing from the original statement, the one that got the attention and that we are rating.

Our ruling:

Biden says Ryan’s plan "eliminates Medicare" in 10 years. In stating it that way in front of campaign donors, he strays from the "as we know it" qualifier even the president has used.

The bottom line is that all seniors would continue to be offered coverage under the proposal, and the program’s budget would increase every year. The plan would reduce the growth in Medicare spending but not wipe out that spending. And current beneficiaries and those currently 55 and over would not be affected by the changes. It changes Medicare, dramatically, but does not eliminate it.

We rate Biden’s statement False.

Our Sources

ABC News Political Punch, "Biden: Obama Has Backbone Like a Ramrod,’" Aug. 31, 2011

Email exchange with the Office of the Vice President, Sept. 1-2, 2011

PolitiFact Wisconsin, item on claim, April 11, 2011

PolitiFact National, item on Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee claim, April 20, 2011

Kaiser Family Foundation, Proposed Changes to Medicare in the ‘Path to Prosperity,’ April 2011

Congressional Budget Office, Long-Term Analysis of a Budget Proposal by Chairman Ryan, April 5, 2011


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More by Dave Umhoefer

Vice President Joe Biden says Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget proposal would eliminate Medicare in 10 years

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