Politics is home to some pretty exaggerated accusations, and this year was no exception, particularly in the area of health care. Case in point: Democrats’ claim that “Republicans voted to end Medicare.” In fact, the assertion was so off the wall that PolitiFact.com named it “Lie of the Year 2011.”

Democrats made the claim about House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) FY 2012 “Path to Prosperity” budget, which included a proposal to provide premium support to Medicare enrollees, helping them to purchase a health care plan of their choice. PolitiFact reports on the left’s response to the proposal:

Democrats pounced. Just four days after the party-line vote, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee released a Web ad that said seniors will have to pay $12,500 more for health care “because Republicans voted to end Medicare.”

Rep. Steve Israel of New York, head of the DCCC, appeared on cable news shows and declared that Republicans voted to “terminate Medicare.” A Web video from the Agenda Project, a liberal group, said the plan would leave the country “without Medicare” and showed a Ryan look-alike pushing an old woman in a wheelchair off a cliff. And just last month, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi sent a fundraising appeal that said: “House Republicans’ vote to end Medicare is a shameful act of betrayal.”

PolitiFact debunked the Medicare charge in nine separate fact-checks rated False or Pants on Fire, most often in attacks leveled against Republican House members.

Now, PolitiFact has chosen the Democrats’ claim as the 2011 Lie of the Year.

What was so wrong about the claims? PolitiFact breaks it down:

  • They ignored the fact that the Ryan plan would not affect people currently in Medicare—or even those age 55–65 who would join the program in the next 10 years.
  • They used harsh terms such as end and kill when the program would still exist, although in a privatized system.
  • They used pictures and video of elderly people who clearly were too old to be affected by the Ryan plan. The DCCC video that aired four days after the vote featured an elderly man who had to take a job as a stripper to pay his medical bills.

There were other ridiculous claims, as well. Representative Steve Rothman (D–NJ) said that the plan would impose “suffering, pain and terror” on “tens of millions of seniors.” Donald Berwick, administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, warned that the plan would lead to rationing (an ironic accusation given that he came out in support of rationing). Oh, and don’t forget the warning to preschoolers issued by House Democrats in the Committee on Education and the Workforce that they could “lose health care if you or your family is low income or has a medical condition.

What’s the truth about the plan? As Heritage’s Robert Moffit and Kathryn Nix write, it’s modeled after the plan that federal workers and employees enjoy, and it would introduce intense competition in a consumer-driven market, which has historically slowed the growth of health care costs and increased patient satisfaction.

While it’s good news that PolitiFact called out Democrats for their distortion of reality, the bad news is that Medicare remains in trouble, and Congress and the President must still take action to save it. The program faces a 75-year unfunded liability in excess of $30 trillion, even as it is plagued by serious gaps in coverage, an increasing number of demoralized doctors refusing to accept new Medicare patients, a sluggish and outdated system of inflexible governance, and tens of billions of dollars in annual losses to waste, fraud, and abuse.

Ryan’s budget, like Heritage’s Saving the American Dream plan, seriously addresses America’s fiscal reality—a $14.3 trillion deficit with unfunded entitlement obligations. Congress should set aside the lies and focus on the truth—that Medicare faces a problem and that it’s time to do something about it.