AARP: Health care bill threatens Alaskans
July 1, 2017
Editor’s note: This commentary was received on May 25, 2017.
Sometimes legislation in Congress has unintended consequences. This is one of those times. The American Health Care Act (AHCA) that recently passed in the U.S. House, and awaits action in the Senate, would increase costs and risks for Alaskans including: seniors, children and adults with disabilities, people with pre-existing conditions, and those ages 50 to 64.
The AHCA would ax federal funding for Medicaid which supports health programs for vulnerable Alaskans. Such a huge loss of funds, in total $834 billion nationwide, would blow a giant hole in Alaska’s state budget, shifting more costs onto the state and ultimately families.
It would also put our most vulnerable citizens—seniors with low incomes and children and adults with disabilities—at great risk of losing the vital health care coverage and long-term services and support that they desperately count on. In 2017, more than 181,000 Alaskans received health coverage and long-term services and supports through Medicaid.
An immediate threat would be to seniors and Alaskans with disabilities who rely on cost-efficient services to remain at home, where they want to be. Cutting federal Medicaid jeopardizes access to home and community-based services, which forces people to rely on more expensive nursing home care.
Another hit for Alaskan seniors: the AHCA weakens the long-term solvency of Medicare – something that is of grave concern to Alaska’s 78,892 Medicare beneficiaries and tens of thousands more (143,100 Alaskans who are 50 to 64 years old) who are nearing eligibility age. Undermining Medicare’s ability to pay for services in the future opens the door to more radical changes, like a voucher program that would shift more costs and risk to older Alaskans who would have to try to find affordable coverage on the private insurance market. We need to be doing more to shore up Medicare, not less.
In addition to all of this, the AHCA would slap an age tax on the thousands of Alaskans between the ages of 50 and 64 who buy insurance on the individual market. The bill would let insurance companies charge older people five times – or more – what other people pay for the exact same policies. Coupled with the AHCA’s reduced tax credits for older Alaskans, these changes could cause their premiums to skyrocket.
The AARP Public Policy Institute has crunched the numbers. A 55-year old Alaskan earning $25,000 a year could pay up to $18,533 more for health coverage under the AHCA. And, a 64 year old Alaskan with the same income could be looking at increases that would eat up more than 80 percent of their income – $28,210. How is this an improvement? The point of health care reform is to lower costs, not raise them.
To make matters even worse, under the AHCA, Alaskans with pre-existing conditions – and more than 50,000 Alaskans have a pre-existing condition – would be at risk. The bill undermines protections that stop insurance companies from denying coverage or charging outrageous premiums for people with conditions including heart disease, cancer and diabetes. The 11th hour deal adding money to a high-risk pool fund isn’t nearly enough to keep premiums at a reasonable level.
All of this adds up to one clear conclusion. The AHCA is not the change that improves the quality of life for Alaskans. It means higher prices and less coverage and the Senate should not support this high-cost, high-risk bill.
AARP Alaska, on behalf of its more than 86,000 members in Alaska, urges Sen. Lisa Murkowski and Sen. Dan Sullivan to stand up for Alaskans and oppose the AHCA.
Terry Snyder volunteers as AARP Alaska State President. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.