After a couple of weeks back in their districts for spring recess, members of Congress return to Capitol Hill on Monday, and you will soon start hearing again about shenanigans involving a very dangerous health care bill that many Americans had left for dead.
Just before leaving, leaders in Washington held closed-door meetings in an attempt to resurrect the legislation, called the American Health Care Act (AHCA). Problem is, if they get their way, it would make a bad bill even worse.
The current version would allow insurance companies to charge older people five times what they charge others for the same coverage. Compounding that problem, it would reduce the tax credit that lower- and middle-income Americans use to afford coverage. Charging older adults five times more than others and changing the tax credit produces an “age tax” that could total up to $13,000 a year more for older people according to the Congressional Budget Office.
In an effort to round up more support, proponents are now putting forward another awful idea: allowing insurance companies to deny coverage or dramatically increase costs for people with pre-existing health conditions like cancer, heart disease, and diabetes.
Under current law, insurers are prevented from discriminating against people with pre-existing conditions. This protection is critically important to millions of Americans and their families. Without it, they face the fear of great financial distress or ruin on top of dealing with a serious health problem.
Those between ages 50 and 64 are especially at risk from a plan that would end or erode protection for those with a pre-existing health condition. According to AARP’s Public Policy Institute, 40 percent of Americans in that age group—a total of 25 million people—have a pre-existing health condition.
In Texas, approximately 2 million people between ages 50 and 64 have a pre-existing health condition.
To make matters worse, the bill would also weaken Medicare’s finances, opening the door for Medicare vouchers. The 57 million Americans and the workers paying into the program could face increased costs and risks they can’t afford.
And, the bill does nothing to lower prescription drug prices while giving drug and insurance companies $200 billion in tax breaks. From lifesaving cancer treatments to EpiPens, drug companies’ skyrocketing prices are pushing critical medications out of reach for those who need them. Last year alone, prescription drug costs increased by thousands of dollars. There is no reason Americans should be paying the highest prices in the world.
Instead of the old saying, “First, do no harm”, this bill takes a radically different approach: keep doing harm and hope people aren’t paying attention.
Let’s make sure our representatives understand we will not accept this legislation that punishes older Americans and rewards special interests. We won’t just stand by as they cut backroom deals that cut down on our health care. We won’t forget who supported this bill—and who stood against it.
Bob Jackson is director of AARP Texas, a nonprofit organization advocating for people age 50+ with 2.3 million members in Texas and 38 million nationwide.