President Obama made an oft-repeated claim on Medicare during Wednesday night’s presidential debate that distorts attempts to reform the program.

The president accused Governor Mitt Romney of favoring a “voucher” program for Medicare, by citing, ironically, a plan previously supported by Romney’s running mate, Representative Paul Ryan. The voucher label can be politically toxic, but bears little resemblance to Ryan’s actual Medicare proposal (in its most recent iteration).

Heritage’s Robert Moffit explained in a National Review column:

It’s all scary nonsense. The Ryan proposal, among others, is a defined-contribution system that in, say, 2023 would provide direct payment from a government account to a health plan of a person’s choice, including traditional Medicare; health plans, including employer-based retiree plans, would have to meet government standards, including benefit standards of the traditional Medicare program, plus new and much-needed protections against the costs of catastrophic illness; all such plans would be offered through a Medicare exchange; all such plans would be governed by existing Medicare insurance rules, meaning persons could not be legally denied coverage or dropped merely because they are sick; low-income persons would be specially protected from unforeseen out-of-pocket cost hikes; and all enrollees would benefit from an improved risk adjustment among plans in the competitive market to guarantee continuity of patient care and health-plan stability.

A voucher is, of course, a defined contribution; but not all defined contribution programs are “vouchers.” A voucher is just one form of defined contribution. TheMerriam Webster definition of a voucher is a “form or check indicating a credit against future purchases or expenditures.” Many ordinary Americans have had some experience with vouchers when their flights were cancelled or delayed, and airlines issued them compensatory certificates redeemable in cash value for the purchase of food and lodging.

If liberals want to label Ryan’s Medicare proposal a “voucher,” as Representative Hochul insists, then logically they must also apply that term to huge chunks of today’s health-care system: the private plans in Medicare Advantage, which cover 27 percent of today’s beneficiaries; the 1100 plans in the Medicare drug program, which cover 60 percent of today’s beneficiaries; the hundreds of plans in the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program(FEHBP), which cover roughly 8 million active and retired federal employees and their families, as well as the defined contributions for stocks, bonds, and equity funds in employer-based pension programs. Worse, “vouchers” will fund Obamacare’s insurance exchanges in 2014.