Ryan, Biden stretch truth on Medicare, healthcare issues

VP candidates spar off in heated debate
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Joe Biden / White House image

Vice President Joe Biden (D) and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) last night shared a noticeably tense moment in last night's vice presidential debate over the highly contentious issue of Medicare. Both candidates stretched the truth on healthcare issues more than once Thursday night.

Here's a breakdown and fact check on the key points from the debate:

$716B in Medicare cuts
The two candidates argued over the infamous $716 billion figure. Ryan said Obama's healthcare plan funneled $716 billion out of Medicare, which is misleading because it suggests health reform has diverted funds away from beneficiaries. In fact, health reform targets health plans and hospitals--not beneficiaries--and aims to cut spending by $716 billion over 10 years, in which the Congressional Budget Office anticipates savings to the federal program, PolitiFact reported.

Paul Ryan / House image

Biden also said the AARP has supported the Medicare cuts, but the AARP has asked the Obama campaign to stop using its name as an endorsement for Democrats' health reform, The Hill's Healthwatch reported.

Bipartisan support for the GOP plan
Ryan called his and Romney's proposal a "bipartisan" plan; however, he failed to note that it later lost Democratic support, The New York Times reported. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) drafted the plan, but he withdrew support after Ryan reduced the federal subsidy rate that could change beneficiaries' out-of-pocket costs.

Hospitals "going out of business"
Ryan quoted the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services as saying that one in six hospitals and nursing homes are "going out of business" under the health reform law. However, Medicare's chief actuary, Richard Foster, actually said about 15 percent of Part A providers, including hospitals, skilled nursing facilities and home health, would become unprofitable within 10 years, but not exactly "go out of business," FactCheck reported.

Voucher vs. premium benefit
It's a called a "voucher program" or "premium support," depending on who you ask. Under the Romney-Ryan plan, starting in a decade, beneficiaries would receive a fixed amount of money that will slowly rise 0.5 percentage points each year, but notably slower than the rate of inflation, the NYT reported.

According to PolitiFact, the "voucher" claim is mostly true. Although it's not a coupon, per say, beneficiaries (who are under 55 today and not current seniors) would receive a fixed government subsidy they could choose to put toward a private insurance plan or a plan similar to traditional Medicare.

"Obamacare board"
Ryan criticized the "15 bureaucrats" in the "Obamacare board," referring to the Independent Payment Advisory Board. IPAB does not ration care, as it's illegal, but it does make recommendations for cost-effectiveness. Ryan also said "not one of [the board members] even has to have medical training." However, the healthcare law requires the board include healthcare professionals, along with economists and consumers, FackCheck noted.

Biden fired back and said the "death panel" board seems to come up every vice presidential debate. That's not exactly true. Although Sarah Palin has called IPAB a "death panel" before, it was not until August 2009, a year after her vice presidential debate with Biden.

According to the Gallop Poll, vice presidential debates rarely influence voters. This week's election tracking poll shows 48 percent of registered voters support Obama, while 46 percent support Romney.

For more information:
- watch the video clip on Medicare from VP debate on ABC News
- read the NYT article
- here's the Hill's Healthwatch blog post
- check out FactCheck's roundup
- here's the PolitiFact piece
- see the Gallop data on VPs and this week's poll on presidential candidates

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