When U.S. Sen. John McCain stood on the floor of his chamber last month and cast the deciding “no” vote on a flawed and ill-conceived health care bill, he was protecting hundreds of thousands of Arizonans over the age of 50 from higher costs, an age tax and massive cuts in coverage.
But as McCain so eloquently said, beating back legislation that would have upended the benefits Arizona families have counted on since the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was passed in 2010 is only the first step. “Let’s trust each other,” the senator said in his first remarks since his surgery. “We’ve been spinning our wheels on too many important issues because we keep trying to find a way to win without help from across the aisle.”
After the vote, McCain pleaded with his colleagues to honor the traditions of bipartisan debate that had been the hallmark of the Senate for generations. The Senate, he said, should “hold hearings, receive input from both sides of the aisle, heed the recommendations of the nation’s governors, and produce a bill that finally delivers affordable health care for the American people.”
As state director of AARP, I couldn’t agree more. And I will be the first to admit, and certainly not the only to acknowledge, that the ACA is not perfect. We need to lower premiums and out-of-pocket costs for people over the age of 50, improve the quality of care, stabilize and foster competition in the insurance markets, increase enrollment in the exchanges, and protect Arizonans with pre-existing health conditions from outrageous cost increases.
But as a first step, we have to eliminate the uncertainty in the insurance market that the health care debate has caused. Lawmakers at the state and federal levels should make sure we keep in place the tax credits and subsidies that help people who buy insurance through the ACA marketplace afford their premiums and meet their deductibles and co-pays.
Congress should also address the factors that have driven costs up and limited access to life-saving treatments and care, which was disappointingly ignored in the recent debate.
Take prescription drugs. Prices are spiraling out of control. Earlier this year, McCain and some of his colleagues on both sides of the aisle, in both chambers, introduced a drug price transparency bill. The measure would require pharmaceutical companies to notify the federal government before they impose dramatic price hikes.
AARP would like to see this bill become law. And AARP also supports policies that would lower the cost of life-saving drugs, let Medicare negotiate prescription drug prices, improve access to generics and allow Americans to import safe – and lower cost – medicines from other countries.
On behalf of Arizona’s more than 880,000 AARP members, I want to thank McCain for safeguarding the critical health care they rely on. I urge his colleagues to heed his call to work together in the best traditions of bipartisanship.
Let’s drop the attempts to penalize people over 50 years of age for being older or sicker. It’s not fair to charge them disproportionately more for coverage just because of their age. And it’s not fair – or right – to scale back or eliminate the tax credits and subsidies that help low-income older Americans afford health insurance.
I hope Congress and the Trump administration can begin to work on commonsense solutions that will lower costs, increase access and ensure we have a quality health care system for all.
— Dana Kennedy is state director of AARP.
The views expressed in guest commentaries are those of the author and are not the views of the Arizona Capitol Times.