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Fact-checkers across the country have debunked the claim numerous times over the last year, but that didn’t stop U.S. Rep. Steve Rothman from shouting these nine words during a recent debate on the House floor:
"The Republicans just voted last year to end Medicare."
Democrats have been making similar claims since the Republican-controlled House signed off in April 2011 on a Medicare reform proposal advanced by U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin). Rothman (D-9th Dist.) made that accusation -- and then repeated it -- during a Feb. 8 debate about extending the payroll tax cut.
But repeating a falsehood still doesn’t make it right, Congressman.
PolitiFact New Jersey found that Ryan’s plan would dramatically restructure Medicare, but it wouldn’t eliminate the program. Also, the proposed changes would not affect current Medicare beneficiaries or others who turn 65 years old before 2022.
Our PolitiFact colleagues have issued False or Pants on Fire rulings to versions of this Medicare claim in nine separate fact-checks, ultimately designating it as the 2011 Lie of the Year. Two other fact-checking groups -- FactCheck.org and The Washington Post’s Fact Checker -- also said the claim was inaccurate.
Rothman spokesman Aaron Keyak said in an email that the congressman stands by his statement.
"Right now, every senior citizen is guaranteed comprehensive medical care under Medicare," Keyak wrote. "The Republican plan authored by Congressman Paul Ryan (R-WI), and approved by the House Republican Majority on April 15, 2011, would end this guarantee for everyone under age 55 and replace it with a voucher system that would cover only a portion of the cost of buying health insurance."
Let’s explain how the Ryan proposal would change Medicare.
Under the traditional Medicare program, which is available to anyone 65 or older, the government pays health care providers directly for services. Beneficiaries must bear the cost of deductibles and coinsurance.
Ryan called for converting the Medicare program to a privatized system, starting with people who turn 65 years old beginning in 2022. Under that system, the government would provide "premium support payments" to help beneficiaries purchase private health insurance.
According to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, most beneficiaries would pay more for health care through the proposed program than under the current Medicare system.
In April 2011, the House approved a budget resolution containing Ryan’s proposal, but the Democrat-controlled U.S. Senate later rejected it.
Now, let’s point out two problems with Rothman’s claim.
First, Ryan’s proposal would not affect current Medicare beneficiaries or people who were at least 55 years old by the end of 2011 and later sign up for Medicare.
Secondly, Medicare would still exist under the proposal, just in a very different form. Federal dollars would still be subsidizing people’s health care.
The Ryan plan "would potentially have major changes in how Medicare operates and who bears the financial costs of the program, but it would not literally do away with the program," Thomas Oliver, a professor of Population Health Sciences at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, said in an email.
Joel Cantor, director of the Center for State Health Policy at Rutgers University, agreed that the Ryan plan would maintain a Medicare program, but told us the proposal "would end the government program that most people think of when we say ‘Medicare.’"
"Bottom line, in my view, is that the quote from Cong. Rothman is hyperbole, but has (a) thread of truth," Cantor said in an email, later adding that the congressman’s "comment is an over-statement of the impact of the Ryan plan on Medicare."
In a speech on the House floor, Rothman repeated a claim that’s been debunked many times before: "The Republicans just voted last year to end Medicare."
Republicans approved a dramatic restructuring of the Medicare program, but that plan would not "end Medicare." The program would remain in existence, and the proposed changes would not affect current beneficiaries or others who turn 65 years old before 2022.
We rate the statement False.
To comment on this ruling, go to NJ.com.
C-SPAN, Congressman Steve Rothman speaks during House session, Feb. 8, 2012
Congressional Record, Remarks by Congressman Steve Rothman, Feb. 8, 2012
PolitiFact, Lie of the Year 2011: 'Republicans voted to end Medicare', Dec. 20, 2011
PolitiFact, Democrats say Republicans voted to end Medicare and charge seniors $12,000, April 20, 2011
FactCheck.org, DCCC Dials Wrong Number, June 13, 2011
The Washington Post, Mediscare Redux: Is McConnell holding debt ceiling hike hostage to Ryan Medicare plan?, June 13, 2011
Congressional Budget Office, Long-Term Analysis of a Budget Proposal by Chairman Ryan, April 5, 2011
House Concurrent Resolution 34 for Fiscal Year 2012 Budget, passed the House on April 15, 2011
New York Times, House Approves Republican Budget Plan to Cut Trillions, April 15, 2011
Email interview with Joel Cantor, Center for State Health Policy at Rutgers University, Feb. 14-15, 2012
Interview with Judith Feder, Georgetown Public Policy Institute, Feb. 14, 2012
Phone and email interviews with Thomas Oliver, University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, Feb. 14-16, 2012
Interview with Robert Blendon, Harvard School of Public Health, Feb. 15, 2012
Email interview with Aaron Keyak, a spokesman for Congressman Steve Rothman, Feb. 15, 2012
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