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U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin (left) was attacked by her Republican challenger, Leah Vukmir, over Medicare for All during a debate on Oct. 19, 2018. (Michael Sears/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel) U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin (left) was attacked by her Republican challenger, Leah Vukmir, over Medicare for All during a debate on Oct. 19, 2018. (Michael Sears/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)

U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin (left) was attacked by her Republican challenger, Leah Vukmir, over Medicare for All during a debate on Oct. 19, 2018. (Michael Sears/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)

Tom Kertscher
By Tom Kertscher October 26, 2018

Leah Vukmir's attack on Tammy Baldwin ignores that Medicare for All would replace, enhance Medicare

Would the Bernie Sanders Medicare for All plan, co-sponsored by U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., really mean no more Medicare for senior citizens?

It’s an attack on Baldwin made by Leah Vukmir, her Republican challenger  — who even goes so far as to say the bill would "literally throw grandma off the cliff."

That’s a reference to PolitiFact National’s Lie of the Year for 2011 — a false claim that Republicans had -- via a plan from Wisconsin Republican Paul Ryan -- to end Medicare. (A web video produced by a liberal group showed a Ryan look-alike pushing an old woman in a wheelchair off a cliff.)

Vukmir is essentially repeating a claim President Donald Trump made in an opinion article he wrote for USA Today.  

Let’s dig into what she said.

All our Tammy Baldwin and Leah Vukmir fact checks in the U.S. Senate race.

Vukmir’s claim

In the third and final debate before the Nov. 6, 2018 election, Vukmir turned a discussion about pre-existing medical conditions to Medicare for All.

In the Oct. 19, 2018 debate in Milwaukee, she said:

Senator Baldwin wants to talk about going backwards. Going backwards is telling seniors that you no longer have your Medicare and your Medicare Advantage. I can’t believe that Senator Baldwin wants to literally throw grandma off the cliff. That’s exactly what she’s doing. This would create chaos of epic proportions. She doesn’t understand her own bill.

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So, what Vukmir is claiming is that the Medicare for All plan supported by Baldwin means senior citizens would "no longer have" Medicare.

What is Medicare for All?

Medicare is the federal government’s health insurance program that is primarily for people age 65 and over older, but also for some younger people with disabilities.

As PolitiFact National reported in a recent explainer about Medicare, the financially stressed $600 billion-a-year program serves 58 million people -- almost one out of six Americans.

Sanders, the independent U.S. Senator from Vermont who ran for president as a Democrat in 2016, introduced his Medicare for All bill in September 2017. It’s been referred to a Senate committee, but nothing more has been done with it.

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As New York Times news articles reported at the time that the bill would expand Medicare so that every American would eventually get insurance from Medicare instead of from private companies or other public programs.

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In other words, a "single payer" -- the government -- would pay everyone’s medical bills.

To be clear, Medicare for All would replace Medicare and Medicare Advantage.

(Medicare Advantage, which is run by private companies and is optional, offers the services Medicare does as well as other servicess, such as dental or vision coverage.)

But, after a four-year transition period, it would replace the current Medicare program with a new and more comprehensive one.

Indeed, under the plan, those currently with Medicare would get more generous coverage -- something that has been noted by PolitiFact National and the Washington Post Fact Checker.

According to the non-profit Kaiser Family Foundation, a top source on health care, Medicare for All would cover not only all medically necessary services, but also dental and vision services.

There would be no premiums or cost-sharing requirements, other than limited cost sharing (up to $200 per year) on prescription drugs. Patients would be allowed to go to any provider, not be limited by a network.

So, that’s enhanced coverage for seniors -- not taking coverage away.

Vukmir’s evidence

To back Vukmir’s claim, her campaign cited an opinion column in the New York Post published three days before the debate.

The column is by Betsy McCaughey, a senior fellow at the conservative London Center for Policy Research and a former lieutenant governor of New York state. (She earned a Pants on Fire for making a statement that was part of PolitiFact’s 2009 Lie of the Year on "death panels.")

McCaughey writes that Sanders’ Medicare for All "abolishes Medicare," a point Vukmir has trumpeted. She argues that the program would not be financially viable, saying:

On paper, the new program guarantees hospital care, doctors’ visits, even dental, vision and long-term care, all paid for by Uncle Sam. Here’s the hitch: Hospitals will be forced to operate under conditions of extreme scarcity, with too little revenue and more patients than ever.

Right now, Medicare shortchanges hospitals, paying them less than the full cost of caring for seniors. But hospitals accept the low payments, because they can shift the unmet costs to younger patients who have private insurance that pays more.

But in the new scheme, hospitals will be paid at Medicare rates for all their patients, not just seniors (Sec. 611). With everyone on Medicare for All, no cost-shifting will be possible.

What would ultimately happen if Medicare for All ever became law, of course, is unknown, though there are plenty of questions.

For example, health care policy expert Robert Moffit at the conservative Heritage Foundation, told us that with Medicare, "the addition of new benefits, procedures and the availability of new medical technologies has traditionally lagged behind private (insurance) plans."

But as proposed -- as even the expert cited by Vukmir acknowledges -- Medicare for All would offer senior citizens more coverage.

Our rating

Vukmir says Baldwin’s "Medicare for All" means senior citizens would "no longer have" Medicare.

Medicare, along with other government and private health insurance programs, would be replaced if Medicare for All ever became law.

But it’s not as though senior citizens would lose Medicare and be left with nothing. In fact, as proposed, Medicare for All would provide them more benefits than they get with current Medicare.

Vukmir’s statement has an element of truth, but ignores critical facts that would give a different impression — our definition of Mostly False.

Share the Facts
PolitiFact rating logo PolitiFact Rating:
Mostly False
Says Tammy Baldwin’s "Medicare for All" plan means senior citizens would "no longer have" Medicare.
In a debate
Friday, October 19, 2018

Our Sources

WISN-TV, Tammy Baldwin-Leah Vukmir debate (16:00), Oct. 19, 2018

Email, Leah Vukmir campaign spokesman Jahan Wilcox, Oct. 24, 2018

Email, Tammy Baldwin campaign spokesman Bill Neidhardt, Oct. 25, 2018

New York Times, "How Medicare for All affects you," Sept. 14, 2017

New York Times, "How the Bernie Sanders Plan Would Both Beef Up and Slim Down Medicare," Sept. 13, 2017

U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, Medicare for All bill

Kaiser Family Foundation, "Medicare-for-All and Public Plan Buy-In Proposals: Overview and Key Issues," Oct. 9, 2018

Email, health care reform expert Michael Tanner, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, Oct. 25, 2018

Email, RAND Corp. health policy analyst Christine Eibner,  Oct. 25, 2018

Email, Kaiser Family Foundation senior fellow for health reform and private insurance Karen Pollitz, Oct. 25, 2018

Email, Heritage Foundation health policy studies senior fellow Robert Moffit, Oct. 25, 2018

Email, Urban Institute fellow and health care reform expert Linda Blumberg, Oct. 25, 2018

Health Affairs, "Unpacking The Sanders Medicare-For-All Bill," Sept. 14 2017, Bernie Sanders Medicare for All bill, accessed Oct. 25, 2018

PolitiFact National, "Fact-checking Donald Trump's op-ed against Medicare for All in USA Today," Oct. 10, 2018

Washington Post Fact Checker, "Fact-checking President Trump’s USA Today op-ed on ‘Medicare-for-All,’" Oct. 10, 2018

New York Post, "Trump is totally right about the dangers of Medicare for All," Oct. 16, 2018

PolitiFact National, "Lie of the Year 2011: 'Republicans voted to end Medicare,’" Dec. 20, 2011

PolitiFact National, "Medicare in 5 charts: A 2018 midterm report," Sept. 11, 2018

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Leah Vukmir's attack on Tammy Baldwin ignores that Medicare for All would replace, enhance Medicare

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