Back in the 1940s AARP's founder, retired educator Dr. Ethel Percy Andrus, found a former teacher living in a chicken coop because she could afford nothing else. Dr. Andrus couldn’t ignore the need for health and financial security in America and set the wheels in motion for what would become AARP. She also pioneered the idea of insuring teachers as a group to make coverage accessible and affordable, approaching 50 different insurance companies before she found one that would go along with this concept. The belief that access to affordable, quality health care insurance is an American ideal drives AARP to continue this fight today.
That’s why AARP supports Governor Herbert’s “Healthy Utah” plan as a commonsense approach to covering the 95,000 Utahns between the ages of 19-64 who earn less than 133 percent of the federal poverty level. The plan is the result of months of research and compromises to find a solution that combines government assistance with personal responsibility to be covered by insurance, with premium and co-pays collected from people above the poverty level.
Right now, Utah’s uninsured adults without dependent children have no access to Medicaid. And adults with children who have incomes above Medicaid eligibility levels but below the poverty level fall into a “coverage gap” of earning too much to qualify for Medicaid but not enough to qualify for federal Health Insurance Marketplace premium tax credits offered by the Affordable Care Act. Fourteen percent of those who fall into the coverage gap are between 50 and 64 years old, many of whom have lost their jobs in recent years, and with it, access to health care coverage. According to AARP Senior Stragetic Policy Advisor Sara Rix,
There is no question that the unemployed in general and older ones especially, have had a tough time of it over the past seven years since the start of the Great Recession. A big problem is that employers can legally discriminate against the unemployed, and unemployment is a big strike against a worker. Once unemployed, older workers are less likely to fine work than their younger counterparts, more likely to drop out of the labor force, and more likely to experience earnings and benefit losses if they do find work.”
AARP research found that the average duration of unemployment for older job seekers is just shy of one year, causing great financial hardship for this population. Three out of five adults 50-64 are uninsured even though they are employed, either because their employer is not required to provide coverage, they are part-time or seasonal workers, or they are self-employed.
So what do older workers do when they cannot access affordable health care? According to a study of emergency room use by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 80 percent of adults aged 18-64 visited the emergency room due to lack of access to other providers. Hospitals and doctors often aren’t paid for this care when recipients cannot afford to pay the bill and the cost is then borne by those with insurance in the form of higher premiums.
And that’s another reason to support the Healthy Utah plan. The state will save money by the reduction in uncompensated care costs—those expenses borne by hospitals and community health centers that provide care but don’t receive compensation for it. The estimated annual reduction for these costs is over $51,000,000, which will free up these crucial health providers to offer care to more individuals.
Healthy Utah makes economic sense for our state. It will help the low-income uninsured population stay healthy and build financial security by removing the threat of devastating health care costs, a leading cause of bankruptcy. We applaud Governor Herbert for his tireless work to find a Utah solution to this critically important issue.
If you would like to send a message of support, go to http://bit.ly/1Fcc9sB to send a message to the Governor and your state senator and representative.