The Corner

Re: Mediscare: 2011’s Lie of the Year

I have to disagree with Robert, and agree with Tevi, that Democrats are lying when they accuse Republicans of “ending Medicare.” Claiming that privatization involves “ending” a program or entity is undeniably demagogic. Here’s what I wrote about this in Forbes today:

Their defense of the “ending Medicare” claim, such as it is, is that using private insurers to deliver health care to seniors, instead of a government agency, fundamentally “ends” the program. This is, plainly, ridiculous. When the British government privatized British Rail in 1993, the railway system did not cease to exist. When Germany privatized Lufthansa in 1994, the German airline wasn’t “ended.”

Similarly, if the government comes up with alternate modes of delivering the same health care to seniors, the program hasn’t been ended. As PolitiFact notes, a more accurate label would be to say that the Ryan plan “privatizes” Medicare. The problem for would-be liberal demagogues is that privatization isn’t the scare word for most Americans that it once was.

Kevin Drum, writing in Mother Jones, makes a similar point:

Does that mean Democrats were justified in describing the Ryan plan as “ending” Medicare? I know we all have our tribal loyalties here, but come on. There’s no question that this is intended to mislead people into thinking that medical coverage for seniors will literally go away entirely. But it wouldn’t. Ryan’s intention is that growth caps plus privatization will lower costs so that his vouchers will remain sufficient to purchase coverage similar to today’s. Meanwhile, low-income seniors would receive subsidies if they couldn’t afford the premiums even with a voucher. It’s a terrible plan, with virtually no evidence to support its central idea, and it would turn Medicare into a far stingier program than it is today. You can quite accurately say that the Ryan plan “privatizes” Medicare, that it “eviscerates” Medicare, or that it abolishes Medicare’s guaranteed coverage.

No, the Ryan plan doesn’t “abolish” guaranteed coverage, any more than Obamacare’s IPAB rationing board does. But Drum otherwise gets to the point: talk about “ending” Medicare is intended to mislead seniors, instead of accurately disagreeing with the philosophy behind Ryan’s reforms.

Avik Roy is the President of the Foundation for Research on Equal Opportunity (FREOPP.org), a non-partisan, non-profit think tank.

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