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AARP’s view: Arizonans have a big stake in health care reform

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We Arizonans know that our state is a great place to live, with great weather, beautiful scenery and low cost of living. That’s why so many retirees choose to move here, driving population growth that boosts our economy. But the health care bill recently passed by the U.S. House of Representatives, the American Health Care Act (AHCA), would, if enacted, cause big problems for older Arizonans and our state budget.

Dana Kennedy

Dana Kennedy

As it stands, the AHCA would cut $839 billion in federal funds that help states, including Arizona, make sure that our most vulnerable citizens get the health care and long-term services and supports that they need. In Arizona, we do that through the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System. Approximately 120,000 low-income seniors and 176,000 children and adults with disabilities rely on AHCCCS. A dramatic decline in federal funding would blow a giant hole in the state budget, shifting costs onto state taxpayers and putting Arizonans at risk of losing vital care and services. For example, the home and community-based services that older Arizonans count on to be able to stay in their homes – where they want to be – may no longer be available for those most in need.

The AHCA also weakens the long-term solvency of Medicare – something that is of grave concern to Arizona’s 1.1 million Medicare beneficiaries and tens of thousands more 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 send older Arizonans out into 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 more than 100,000 Arizonans 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 than what younger people pay for the exact same policies.  Coupled with the AHCA’s skimpy tax credits, older Arizonans would see their insurance premiums skyrocket. The AARP Public Policy Institute has crunched the numbers.  A 55-year old Arizonan earning $25,000 a year could pay up to $13,288 MORE for health coverage under the AHCA. And, a 64 year old with the same income could be looking at increases that would eat up more than 80 percent of their income — $20,873.

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, Arizonans with pre-existing conditions would also 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 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 we voted for. It means higher prices and less coverage, and the Senate should not support this high cost, high risk bill.

AARP, on behalf of its more than 870,000 members in Arizona, urges Senators McCain and Flake to scrap the AHCA and start from scratch on legislation that will protect Medicare, lower costs, improve quality and provide affordable coverage to all Americans.

— Dana Kennedy is the AARP Arizona state director

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The views expressed in guest commentaries are those of the author and are not the views of the Arizona Capitol Times.

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