Washington Post fact-checker Glenn Kessler isn't so enamored with Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius after she made this claim last week:
“I think there's no question if you take a snapshot, people will run out of money, very quickly [under the GOP Medicare plan if you have cancer]. And if you run out of the government voucher and then you run out of your own money, you're really left to scrape together charity care, go without care, die sooner. There aren't really a lot of options.”
Kessler gives Sebelius three "Pincocchios" (out of a possible four) and offers this explanation:
There are a number of unanswered questions about the Ryan Medicare plan. It has not been fleshed out with legislative language, and that has allowed opponents to assume the worst about it. Certainly, serious questions have been raised about what the proposed changes would mean for people facing suddenly high health costs. But the budget debate in Washington is fierce enough that senior officials should avoid the temptation to make outrageous charges. [...]
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.
I'm a big fan of Kessler's fact-checking, but in this case, I think he might be reacting against the blunt partisanship of Sebelius' statement, since the actual content isn't false, or at least, it's not far from the truth. Kessler quotes from a Center on Budget and Policy Priorities report, and here is what the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has to say about the Medicare "reforms" contained within the Republican Medicare plan:
[T]he Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, a liberal-leaning group admired for its research, has warned that the combination of Ryan's proposals could “substantially increase out-of-pocket costs for millions of low-income seniors and people with disabilities” who are eligible for both Medicare and Medicaid, the health care program for the poor. “As a result, many dual eligibles, who have the most significant medical needs among both Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries, would likely end up forgoing needed medical care,” the group has said.
In other words, since health-care costs will likely outpace the value of the GOP Medicare voucher, it's possible that patients will very quickly "run out of money." In which case, they will probably "die sooner" than otherwise. Indeed, this is the whole point: If you're going to cut costs by imposing a cap on total Medicare expenditures per enrollee, then you've committed to reducing the amount of (government-funded) health-care consumed by the elderly. By definition, this will result in some people dying sooner than they otherwise might.
Of course, it's possible that the GOP has some plan to deal with people who can't afford their bills, but given their ongoing attempt to cut the social safety net, I think that's an unreasonable assumption. Republicans want to gut the medical safety net, and old people will die prematurely as a result. That's not a nice thing to say in polite company, but it's the truth.
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