WaPo fact checker: No, seniors won't die faster under Ryan plan

The problem with the debate over the competing visions for health-care reform, Glenn Kessler writes at the Washington Post, is that Paul Ryan’s plan has not yet been cast in legislative language.  That allows critics to assume the worst about it, and certainly Ryan’s critics have tried pushing the envelope on dire predictions for the health of seniors under his so-called “voucher” plan.  But Kessler slams HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius for an especially unsubstantiated charge that seniors would “die sooner” under Ryan’s plan:

Secretary Sebelius made this eye-popping statement Thursday while testifying on Capitol Hill, after Rep. Rob Andrews (D-N.J) asked her a question about the Medicare plan advanced by House Republicans: “What might that cost shift and lack of guaranteed benefit mean for an oncology patient, a person with cancer? Give me an example, what it might do there.”

Her answer was strong stuff, suggesting that the GOP plan could cause people to “die sooner” if they had cancer and ran out of money. We have been critical of some of the ways Republicans have described the plan, but is this even remotely possible?

There is one thing to keep in mind in the debate over the Ryan plan: all seniors would be guaranteed coverage.  Ryan achieves this by adjusting the amount of credit seniors would get in the Medicare exchange system based on their pre-existing conditions, which would allow insurers to operate their risk pools more rationally.  The scenario that Sebelius describes, Kessler notes, doesn’t match up to the reality of Ryan’s stated parameters at all.  And while Kessler doesn’t note this, people should also keep in mind that the existing Medicare system nor the ObamaCare system doesn’t guarantee full payment of treatments now, let alone in the future, as anyone on Medicare could easily attest.

Kessler lowers the boom on Sebelius’ Mediscare tactics:

[T]his is in some ways akin to the false claim that Obama wanted to create “death panels” in the health care law.

Sebelius could have chosen to highlight the trade-offs people might face, or questioned the vagueness of Ryan’s proposals to deal with people who can’t afford to pay their bills. Instead, she decided to present a highly inflammable comment as a statement of fact — that there was “no question” people would run out money “very quickly” and then they would “die sooner.” She should be ashamed.

Kessler gives Sebelius three Pinocchios for this statement, but don’t be surprised to see Democrats continue to use this argument.