Published in the Woonsocket Call on May 28, 2017
Weeks ago, the Trump Administration and GOP House leadership mended fences with GOP moderates and conservatives to hammer out a new version of the introduced legislation, the American Health Care Act (AHCA) of 2017 and replace the Affordable Care Act, called Obamacare Care. The GOP health care proposal with its last-minute changes passed on May 4 by a razor-thin vote of 217-213, a slim margin of four votes. All 193 Democrats opposed passage, along with 20 Republican lawmakers.
With passage, AHCA moved to the Senate for deliberation. Senators considered the House passed health care bill “Dead on Arrival.” But, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) quickly appointed 13 Republican Senators to hammer out their chamber’s health care bill. Political observers doubt whether McConnell has enough votes to pass legislation this year.
Democratic lawmakers and critics of the House’s passed AHCA legislative proposal expressed outrage that House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) called for a vote, not even waiting for the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) to provide an updated financial analysis of the new version of AHCA. The CBO’s cost analysis of the original bill, pulled moments before a scheduled vote on March 24, 2017, found that the GOP health care bill estimated that if passed 24 million or more Americans could be uninsured by 2026.
Now the long-awaited CBO new numbers are finally in for the House GOP passed health care bill.
According to the CBO analysis released on May 24, 2017, 23 million people will lose health insurance in the next decade under the House GOP’s recently passed health care proposal. The CBO analysis concludes that the AHCA benefits the young and healthy at the expense of older and sicker Americans. The report indicates that “near seniors” (aged 50-64) will be hit particularly hard by the GOP healthcare bill. Specifically, net insurance premium costs for low-income seniors would rise by 700 to 847 percent over the next 10 years under House-passed bill. A 64-year-old with an income of $26,500 per year who paid $1,700 annually for an Obamacare policy would now pay a whopping $13,600 under the Republican plan.
Aging Groups Rally Against Flawed GOP Fix to Nation’s Health Coverage
Aging advocates says that CBO’s analysis of the newer version of AHCA again brings to the forefront the flaws of the GOP’s health care coverage fix.
In a statement, AARP Executive Vice President Nancy LeaMond says the new CBO analysis serves as another example that the House legislation would make harmful changes to the nation’s current health care system. The bill would also hurt older Americans by decreasing the solvency of Medicare, hiking costs for those who can least afford them, eroding seniors’ ability to live independently, and giving tax breaks to big drug companies and health insurance companies, she said.
“AARP reiterates our strong opposition to the harmful bill passed by the House and calls on the Senate to take action by starting a bill from scratch. The CBO analysis found that premiums would go up to unaffordable levels by inflicting an Age Tax and removing current protections for people with common conditions including diabetes and weight gain. Putting a greater financial burden on older Americans is not the way to solve the problems in our health care system,” says LeaMond.
“The CBO report was no surprise to those of us who are looking out for the best interests of older Americans. The GOP leadership was so focused on passing repeal and replace legislation that they failed their due diligence by ignoring an ominous flaw: their bill will drive up seniors’ out-of-pocket costs by repealing subsidies that help defray the cost of premiums,” says Max Richtman, President and CEO of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare in a statement.
The report also confirms that the House bill will only compound the problems faced by near seniors with pre-existing conditions. While an amendment by Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI) adds $8 billion over five years to fund high-risk pools for patients with pre-existing conditions, that will not be nearly enough to offset the extra costs to seniors, warns Richtman.
According to CBO, “People who are less healthy (including those with pre-existing or newly acquired medical conditions) would ultimately be unable to purchase comprehensive non-group health insurance at premiums comparable to those under current law, if they could purchase it at all.”
Seniors who rely on Medicaid will suffer under the GOP’s passed health care bill, said Richtman, noting that the CBO report calculates that the AHCA slashes Medicaid spending by $834 billion. Medicaid currently helps pay for long term care for millions of seniors nationwide.
The CBO estimates that some 14 million Medicaid recipients would lose coverage under the AHCA – or not be able to attain it in the first place – within the next 10 years. In fact, more than half of the increase in uninsured Americans under the AHCA would come from this vulnerable population. In addition, changes to the ACA’s individual market reforms will increase the number of uninsured Americans age 50 to 64 from just over 10 percent under current law to nearly 30 percent, says Richtman.
Richtman charges that the GOP healthcare bill also weakens Medicare by repealing a tax on high wage earners, which would decrease the solvency of the Medicare Part A Trust Fund by three years. Accelerating the exhaustion of the Part A trust fund would likely lead to cuts in Medicare, including privatizing the program, that would be detrimental to current and future beneficiaries.
“The amended American Health Care Act is an assault on the health care of all seniors,” says Richtman. “We can only hope that the Senate will take the CBO’s new figures into consideration – and reverse the provisions that are so demonstrably harmful to our nation’s seniors.”
GOP Defends its Health Care Coverage Fix
As expected, with the release of CBO’s new numbers, the GOP moved quickly to dispute the federal agency’s findings. Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel stated “The CBO has a history of being way off in their predictions, often giving a different forecast from actual reality.”
Even former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) got into the verbal fray, blasting the new CBO analysis on FOX Business’ Lou Dobbs Tonight, calling for “the abolishment of the federal agency.” Gingrich called CBO “a dishonest bureaucratic organization,” suggesting that money might be saved by hiring “outside professional firms, get three to five major scores on bills.”
The Battle on Health Care Reform Moves to the Upper Chamber
On May 22, 2017, more than 75 national organizations recently sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Ranking Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, calling on the Senators to reject AHCA and to engage in “a transparent, bipartisan dialogue on needed reforms to enhance health care access and affordability.” The correspondence gave notice that these organizations strongly opposed provisions in the AHCA that undermined Medicare’s financing and risk access to essential care for Medicare and Medicaid recipients.
The correspondence cosigners noted that Obamacare imposed a small tax increase on the highest earners that helped” put Medicare on stronger financial footing. The GOP health care bill’s repeal of this tax would result in lost revenues, causing the Medicare Hospital Insurance (Part A) Trust Fund to become insolvent two years earlier than anticipated. The correspondence also expresses alarm that Congress would knowingly vote to undercut the Trust Fund.
The correspondence also charges that the GOP’s AHCA advances devastating Medicaid cuts—per-capita caps—that threaten access to needed care for the 11 million people with Medicare who also depend on Medicaid. One in five people with Medicare rely on Medicaid to cover vital long-term home care and nursing home services, to help afford their Medicare premiums and cost-sharing, and more.
“Federal cuts to Medicaid…would drive states to make hard choices, likely leading states to scale back benefits, impose waiting lists, implement unaffordable financial obligations, or otherwise restrict access to services,” says the correspondence.
Joe Baker, president of the Medicare Rights Center, said, “A Medicaid cut is a Medicare cut. One in five people with Medicare rely on Medicaid to access home and community-based services and nursing home care that they would otherwise go without. Medicaid is also the lifeline that helps millions of older adults and people with disabilities afford their Medicare premiums and cost-sharing. Per-capita caps are not a viable path forward to support our aging nation; the Senate must start from scratch.”
Adds, Kevin Prindiville, executive director of Justice in Aging. “The AHCA risks the health and financial security of millions of older adults in our families and communities. Slashing the program’s funding by over $800 billion eliminates Medicaid’s 50-year guarantee that older adults can count on Medicaid when they need it the most. We call on the Senate to protect seniors and Medicaid.”
“Simply put, this legislation is not a health care bill,” says Judith Stein, executive director of the Center for Medicare Advocacy. “A health care bill would strengthen coverage and delivery programs. AHCA gratuitously weakens Medicare, decimates Medicaid, and guts insurance for 24 million people. We urge the Senate to reject this charade and develop a real health care bill that improves coverage and enhances the Affordable Care Act.”