While Senate Republicans work behind closed doors to deliver a version of an Obamacare repeal that can pass the upper chamber, retired Americans are pushing back on the House version, passed in May, that would prove devastating for older workers and retirees.
On June 20, the Alliance for Retired Americans brought some of its members, including retired Washington, D.C., Local 26 electrician Susan Flashman, to the U.S. Capitol to speak on behalf of their fellow retirees about the unintended consequences of the House bill, particularly its effects on Medicare.
“We don’t know exactly what Senate Republicans are planning to do to our health care, because it is being done in secret,” Flashman told senators. “But older Americans know enough to be extremely frightened,” she said, pointing out that the Senate’s starting point is the American Health Care Act passed by the House.
That bill, which the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office predicted will cut health coverage for 23 million Americans, also imposes an age tax on older working people as part of its attempt to lower rates for younger, healthier people.
According to estimates, working people approaching retirement, those aged 50-64, would have to pay five times the insurance costs of younger workers, with premiums for those aged 60-64 predicted to increase by an average of $3,200 to an unsubsidized average of nearly $18,000 per year.
Despite the lack of obvious cuts to Medicare, the health care program aimed at retired Americans over the age of 65, critics argue that the massive increases to health costs for near-retirement workers will lead to sicker Medicare enrollees, ballooning costs to the already underfunded program.
Additionally, the AHCA would repeal a tax on prescription drug manufacturers, boosting corporate profits while driving up premiums for Medicare Part B subscribers.
By contrast, Obamacare, or the Affordable Care Act, passed in 2010, took steps to extend the life of Medicare, boosting its solvency by almost a decade through a tax on high-income earners. Under the House-passed AHCA, the tax on individuals making more than $200,000 per year would be repealed. Experts at the nonpartisan Brookings Institution predict the Medicare Trust Fund could be depleted as soon as 2025 under the House plan.
“I don’t need to tell anyone how devastating that would be,” said International President Lonnie R. Stephenson. “The way this process is being carried out – done in secret without any input from the people whose lives it would wreck – is unprecedented and unconscionable.”
For people like Flashman, who in 2011 needed costly brain surgery that required her to stop working at the age of 57, the GOP health bill could be even more devastating. Reports suggest the Senate bill may reintroduce lifetime caps on coverage, which were banned under Obamacare. That means even families with good, employer-provided health care could risk running up against a lifetime cap after a serious illness or injury.
“At the IBEW, we’re blessed to have the health coverage that we’ve fought for and negotiated over the years,” Stephenson said. “But taking coverage from 23 million Americans, robbing from Medicare to fund tax cuts for the rich and punishing sick people with lifetime caps hurts the quality of our coverage too. We can’t be bystanders in this fight.”
IBEW members are encouraged to call their senators using the Capitol switchboard at (202) 224-3121 or directly, using www.whoismyrepresentative.com, to tell them to reject the AHCA, strengthen Medicare and to make the process public so Americans know what’s in the Senate bill.