Sen. John Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) speaks as Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius, Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) listen during a news conference Thursday on Capitol Hill. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

As Democrats have pummeled the House GOP over the sweeping changes to Medicare included in their 2012 budget blueprint, Republicans have defended the plan by noting that those who will be most affected by the cuts are people currently 55 and under.

On Thursday, Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius and a group of Senate Democrats contended that’s not the case.

“What the Republicans are saying – that this won’t affect seniors now, that the cuts are all off in future years – is flat-out false,” Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) said Thursday at a Capitol news conference with Sebelius and Democratic Sens. Sherrod Brown (Ohio), Barbara Mikulski (Md.) and Jay Rockefeller (W.Va.).

Sebelius, Whitehouse and the other Senate Democrats argued that the House Republican budget blueprint drafted by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) would reopen the “donut hole,” the prescription drug coverage gap for seniors on Medicare.

“As you know, in the reform bill that we passed, we solved, over time, the problem of the donut hole, the dreaded coverage gap that seniors fall into when their prescriptions can’t be paid for anymore,” Whitehouse said. “That solution to the donut hole problem gets repealed by the Ryan budget plan, and that would hit home right away.”

The Democrats released a report Thursday showing what they said would be the state-by-state impact of the Ryan budget plan on seniors affected by the donut hole. The total additional cost to seniors annually would be $2.2 billion for prescription drug costs and $110 million for wellness visits, they said.

Republicans countered that Democrats have already made cuts to Medicare by reducing spending on it by $500 billion over the next decade as part of the national health-care law. They also noted that Democrats and the White House have yet to detail a plan that would preserve federal entitlement programs, which a Medicare and Social Security Trustees report projected last week are on track to be depleted earlier than expected.

“Washington Democrats’ health-care law cuts Medicare by over $500 billion to create an unsustainable new entitlement, and raises drug costs for seniors – that’s ‘extreme,’” said Michael Steel, a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio). “House Republicans’ plan would preserve and protect Medicare, and put us on a path to pay off the debt. When will Washington Democrats drop their scare tactics and offer honest ideas to deal with the big challenges our nation faces?”

With the Senate poised to vote on the Ryan budget plan next week, Thursday’s news conference was the latest salvo in the ongoing battle over Medicare. A further sign that the House Republican budget remains a contentious issue came this week as The Hill reported that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has not been whipping up Republican votes for the plan.