The AARP has been outspoken in its opposition to the American Health Care Act, which was passed by the House earlier this month.
The organization, which represents nearly 38 million adults age 50 and over, says the bill creates an age tax, harms people with pre-existing conditions and weakens Medicare.
Health News Florida sat down with AARP Board President Eric Schneidewind to talk about the bill. Here are excerpts from that conversation:
The AARP is opposed to the American Health Care Act. Why is that?
We oppose the American Health Care Act for several reasons. First and foremost, probably, is that it would result in 24 million people losing their insurance -- this is a finding by the Congressional Budget Office.
The AARP has said that the bill contains an age tax. Can you tell me about that?
Sure. Under current law if you go to buy individual insurance and you're just old enough before you qualify for Medicare -- let's say you're 63 or 64 -- the maximum an insurance company can charge you, compared to its lower rate for a young person is three times. Under the new Health Care Act they can charge you five times as much. So we called it an age tax and that would result in thousands of dollars of rate increases for every single person in their late 50s early 60s who goes out and buys individual insurance.
The AARP also raised concerns about the bill's impact on Medicare's solvency. How do you think the bill will hurt Medicare?
Well in the current law, the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare, congress inserted funding which would be used to support the solvency of Medicare and the amount of money provided extended solvency, in other words made that program able to pay its bills and all that, for an additional four years. That funding is repealed in the American Health Care Act.
Does the possibility of losing coverage for preexisting conditions disproportionately affect older people?
Yes it does. Forty percent or so of older people, and by that I mean people in their late 50s and early 60s, have preexisting conditions. And under current law, you cannot charge these people a higher rate for insurance or refuse to insure them. Under the American Health Care Act, states would be able to opt out of those protections.
Many of AARP's members are on Medicare. How many of your members could be impacted by this bill?
Well, if you take a look at the people on Medicare, I would say roughly all of them because the solvency of Medicare is reduced. Now many of our members, those age 50 to 64, buy their own insurance or receive it through Medicaid because they have very low income. All those people would be negatively affected.
Was the AARP as active in shaping the Affordable Care Act?
We were very active. We got involved and we didn't get everything we wanted. You have to remember, that legislation covered many millions of Americans more than before it was enacted. And we don't want anything that turns back the clock and takes away insurance from those millions of Americans.
Do you worry about alienating some members by taking a stand for or against this bill?
You know AARP has been remarkably consistent over the years and I like to give this example. Under President George W. Bush, when he expanded coverage on Medicare to include prescription drugs, we supported him. When he proposed to privatize Social Security, though, we opposed him. Under President Barack Obama, when he proposed to expand coverage to Medicaid recipients and make more affordable coverage available to people who bought individual insurance, we supported him. But when he proposed to adopt a COLA (Cost of Living Adjustment) mechanism for Social Security that would have reduced benefits, we opposed him. There's a consistent theme here. We represent our members interests above all, and regardless of the party and the politics of the people involved.