From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Audie Cornish.

If you watched last night's vice presidential debate, you may still be trying to pick apart the many passionate assertions made by both candidates. We're going to help you out now with one of them. To no one's surprise, Medicare was a major topic. Congressman Paul Ryan is the author of a controversial Medicare plan the Democrats have been hammering on for more than a year.

So for the next installment in our effort to put the candidates' claims in context, NPR's Julie Rovner joins us to explain some of the conflicting claims on Medicare. Hi there, Julie.


CORNISH: So let's get right to it. Vice President Biden making the Democrats' favorite argument about the GOP plan for Medicare. Here he is.


VICE PRESIDENT JOSEPH BIDEN: Their ideas are old, and their ideas are bad, and they eliminate the guarantee of Medicare.

CORNISH: So, Julie, is that true? Does the Republican plan actually eliminate the guarantee of Medicare?

BYLINE: Well, in a way, yes, it does. What the vice president is using here is shorthand for the way Medicare is structured today, which is a guaranteed set of benefits which continues to be guaranteed no matter how much they cost.

What Governor Romney and Congressman Ryan are talking about is giving Medicare recipients a fixed amount of money instead, which might or might not be enough to pay for the benefits Medicare currently provides. So, in that sense, the Republican plan does eliminate Medicare's current guarantee, although Medicare, as a program, would continue to exist.

CORNISH: OK. Moving on. Here's something that Congressman Ryan said about his Medicare plan.


PAUL RYAN: It's a plan I put together with a prominent Democrat senator from Oregon.

BIDEN: There's not one Democrat who endorses it.

RYAN: It's a plan...

BIDEN: Not one Democrat who...

RYAN: Our partner is a...

CORNISH: OK. Julie, so this plan, is it truly bipartisan?

BYLINE: Well, that depends on how you define the word plan. Congressman Ryan originally came up with his plan in the spring of 2011. Then, last December, he put out kind of a version 2.0 - it was sort of a white paper - with Oregon Democratic Senator Ron Wyden. Senator Wyden, however, backed off of that plan almost immediately. He voted against the version in the Senate.

And then this summer, when Mitt Romney put Congressman Ryan on the ticket and he called the plan bipartisan, Senator Wyden took him to task immediately, said, no, he does not support this plan anymore. And that's what he's maintained ever since.

CORNISH: OK. Moving on from Medicare to the Affordable Care Act. Here's a claim that Congressman Ryan made.


RYAN: Look at all the string of broken promises. If you like your health care plan, you can keep it. Try telling that to the 20 million people who are projected to lose their health insurance if Obamacare goes through.

CORNISH: OK. That number, 20 million people projected to lose health care, is that true?

BYLINE: Well, this is a number Republicans have been taking way out of context. It's the number the Congressional Budget Office says will no longer have employer-provided health insurance when the law is fully phased in. Now a lot of those people are likely to get insurance in other ways, probably ways they will prefer. This includes people who are working solely to keep insurance. They may want to start their own business, or they may want to retire. Overall, the CBO says the law will boost the number of people with insurance by about 30 million.

CORNISH: And finally there was this comment from the vice president when Congressman Ryan complained about a panel that would ration care.


BIDEN: You know, I heard that death panel argument from Sarah Palin. It seems every vice presidential debate, I hear this kind of stuff about panels.

CORNISH: Julie, is that right?

BYLINE: In a word, no. Sarah Palin was indeed active in complaining about death panels, but that didn't start until the summer of 2009 when there was a bill. Nearly a year after her debate with Joe Biden, I think he was just misremembering here or misremembering on purpose to try to link Ryan with the perhaps less popular Palin.

CORNISH: Julie, thank you.

BYLINE: Thank you.

CORNISH: Putting Medicare in context with NPR health policy correspondent Julie Rovner.

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