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Why Seniors Should Care About Obamacare Repeal

There’s a great piece in the current Money magazine by Elizabeth O’Brien about the impact of ACA repeal on seniors.  The title alone makes it worth the read:  “Think Changes to Obamacare Won’t Affect You?  Think Again.”   In this article, O’Brien lays bare the consequences of ACA repeal to seniors, who, as the title implies, may not be aware of the repercussions for Medicare.

"The Affordable Care Act contains about 165 provisions affecting Medicare, according to Medicare's trustees. These range from improving benefits for the 57 million current beneficiaries to shoring up the program’s long-term finances for future ones.

These provisions include free wellness visits and preventative screenings for cancer, diabetes, heart disease and a host of other medical conditions – with no out of pocket costs – all of which could disappear if the ACA is repealed.  Likewise with the prescription drug “donut hole,” which the ACA was closing, saving the average beneficiary $1,000 a year.  As O’Brien notes, before Obamacare came along:

"More than three million beneficiaries hit the donut hole before the law took effect, and some [seniors] were forced to skip doses, split pills, or not fill their prescriptions at all due to high costs.

Who wants to go back to seniors splitting pills or going without their medicines?  

O’Brien also points out that because of the savings the ACA provided to Medicare, repealing the healthcare law will cost Medicare $802 billion between now and 2025.  There’s also a strong refutation of the argument by House Speaker Paul Ryan and HHS Nominee Tom Price that Medicare is “going broke,” which they will use as a canard to cut benefits.

Most tellingly, the Republicans are gunning for tax provisions that help pay for the ACA which mainly affect the upper middle class and the wealthy.  O’Brien quotes Matthew Yglesias of Vox:

"Republicans’ desire to eliminate these taxes is a big driver of their push to repeal Obamacare. Subsidizing the health care costs of working-class people is expensive, and while Democrats want rich people to pay the freight for doing it, Republicans do not."

The bottom line:  seniors and millions of newly insured Americans will pay more for healthcare – or go without it entirely – so that high earners can get a tax break. 

Powerful new Ads target Obamacare Repeal

The Alliance for Healthcare security, of which the National Committee is a member, has released the latest in a series of tv spots opposing repeal of the Affordable Care Act.  Watch the new ad here.  It's worth the 30 seconds of your time.  

This latest one is probably the most powerful of the series, which began airing in December.  The opening narration pulls no punches. "Congress has taken the first step to rip apart our healthcare with no plan to replace it," says the announcer.  The bulk of the ad features actual health care professionals in blue scrubs and white coats talking right into the camera about why repeal is such a bad idea.

"They don't have a plan to insure the 30 million people who will lose their healthcare," says Theresa, a registered nurse.  "No plan to cure existing conditions, like cancer," says Michelle, another RN, while a third nurse states simply, "It's gonna cause pain."

The tagline is:  "Tell Congress we need a plan that protects our care."

The ad is elegant, clean, and effective.  Pressure from advocacy groups and negative media coverage of the repeal efforts on Capitol Hill seem to be having an impact.  As the Associated Press reported today, some Congressional Republicans are starting to back away from repeal and talking more about what sounds like "repair," which is something even President Obama and Democrats had always said they would welcome. The Associated Press describes "a softer tone that comes as [the GOP's] march to fulfill a keystone campaign promise encounters disunity, drooping momentum and uneasy voters."

Last week, Congressional Republicans seemed like they were on a tear to repeal - ramrodding through a budget resolution that would defund Obamacare with the promise of a replacement bill soon after.  Not anymore, apparently.  

"Republicans triumphantly shoved a budget through Congress three weeks ago that gave committees until Jan. 27 to write bills dismantling the law and substituting a Republican plan. Everyone knew that deadline meant little, but now leaders are talking about moving initial legislation by early spring." - Associated Press

Seniors, especially, have a lot at stake in any repeal and replacement because of the Affordable Care Act's improvements to Medicare - including free preventative screenings and wellness exams, the closing of the Medicare Part D prescription drug "donut hole," and the extended solvency that the ACA provided to the Medicare Part A trust fund.  

Let's hope that this continued ad campaign by the Alliance for Healthcare Security, and the voices of organizations like ours along with pressure from the public will convince the GOP that outright repeal without a replacement that protects the healthcare of all Americans is a really unhealthy choice.  



Paul Ryan and House GOP on Fast-Track to Repeal ACA, Putting Millions of Insured at Risk

Speaker Paul Ryan and the House GOP are on a tear to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA), without being any closer to agreement on a replacement plan. The House will likely introduce a budget reconciliation bill to effectively repeal the ACA in the next two weeks… with no immediate replacement.  Ryan and his troops hope to have a replacement plan by April, but Max Richtman, the President of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare is skeptical: 

 

"Given the potential political risk of displacing 20 million Americans who now have health coverage through the ACA, the legislative battle will probably take longer than they think."

Republicans meeting in Philadelphia this week to strategize about replacements for the Affordable Care Act were unable to come to a consensus. The disarray in the GOP caucus made for an alarming headline in this morning’s Los Angeles Times:  Republicans divided over whether millions of Americans should lose government-subsidized health coverage.

In the meantime, if Congress repeals the ACA soon but blows past April struggling to replace it, says Richtman, that could destabilize the health insurance market and endanger ACA policyholders’ coverage.

 
"If key parts of the ACA are repealed now, and insurance companies think the situation is too unpredictable, you have an immediate de facto loss of coverage for more than 20 million Americans."

The nearly 60 million seniors and disabled on Medicare are also at risk of losing benefits that the ACA mandated, including annual wellness visits and preventative screenings with no out of pocket costs, and will have to pay an average $1,000 per year more for prescription drugs unless those parts of Obamacare are retained.  Of course, at this point no one knows which of the ACA’s benefits will stay or be shredded, including House Republicans.

 
In a related development, the Washington Post reports the White House is pulling ads for ACA enrollments in advance of the 2017 enrollment deadline.

Democrats Challenge Price over Medicare and Medicaid Funding

Democrats concerned about seniors, children, the disadvantaged and disabled took HHS Nominee Tom Price to task in his first day of Senate confirmation hearings Wednesday before the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions. Price faced withering questions from committee Democrats which he sometimes struggled to answer or simply evaded. Skeptical about Price’s statement at the beginning of the hearing that, “Nobody’s interested in pulling the rug out from under anybody,” Democrats held his feet to the fire where his record contradicts that promise.   

Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) confronted Price (a Republican member of the U.S. House) about his past proposals to slash Medicare and Medicaid.  “You would have cut Medicare by $449 billion… and would have cut Medicaid funding by more than $1 trillion dollars, correct?” Warren asked Price.  “You have the numbers before you,” he said.  When Warren asked if Price would honor President-elect Trump’s pledge not to cut Medicare or Medicaid by even one dollar, the nominee would not commit – insisting that the amount of funding is the “wrong metric.”

“The millions of Americans who rely on Medicare and Medicaid are not going to be reassured,” warned Senator Warren, suggesting that Price print out Trump’s pledge and post it above his desk.  “Americans will be watching to see if you follow through on that promise.”

Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) also confronted Price about the future of Medicare and Medicaid in the new administration.  “You have said you plan to overhaul Medicare in the first 6-8 months of this administration in a way that would end the guarantee of full coverage.” 

Senator Al Franken (D-MN) expressed concerns about Price’s policies and priorities, especially his fierce opposition to the Affordable Care Act.   “I see you as someone who is there for the doctors,” Franken chided.  (Price is a physician as well as a Congressman.) Franken told Price that repealing the Affordable Care Act “is going to unravel something that has given a lot of Americans peace of mind.”

Democrats also grilled Price about personal stock transactions affected by his decisions as a legislator.  "Do you believe it is appropriate for a senior member of Congress, actively involved in policymaking in the health sector, to repeatedly personally invest in a drug company that could benefit from those actions?" Murray asked. "That's not what happened," said Price.

Republicans on the committee were largely cordial and complimentary to Rep. Price.

Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) allowed each member only one round of questions with a 7-minute time limit, prompting complaints from Democrats that important hearings were being rushed and the American people denied sufficient time to learn about the nominees.  Price will have another hearing before the Senate Finance Committee on January 24th

National Committee President Rallies Crowd at Day of Action to Protect ACA, Medicare and Medicaid

 

Max Richtman, President and CEO of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, joined other advocates, politicians, and everyday Americans at a Day of Action rally in Richmond, Virginia Sunday. The Day of Action was an opportunity for people across the country to stand up for the Affordable Care Act, Medicare, and Medicaid.  The Richmond rally – attended by Richtman, Senator Tim Kaine, Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA), and Governor Terry McAulife – was one of more than 40 protests nationwide.

Some one thousand people gathered on the grounds of the Virginia State Capitol to make their voices heard.  Max Richtman rallied the crowd early on with a reminder of the struggle to defend Social Security in 2005.  “We had a president (George W. Bush) whose top agenda item was to privatize Social Security. Even with a GOP House and Senate, we were able to kill it.  Not a single bill reached the floor.  And that’s what we can do today.  We can defeat any changes to the ACA which will endanger Medicare.”

Ricthman reminded the crowd in stark terms exactly what is at stake if the Affordable Care Act is repealed, “despite a lot of the myths that citizens have heard in the past few years.”  Medicare beneficiaries, in particular, would lose the valuable improvements that the ACA provided.  “Here is the truth,” Richtman said from the podium, “For the first time ever, Medicare beneficiaries were able to get annual wellness exams with no out of pocket costs under the ACA. For the first time ever, they could get preventative screenings with no out of pocket costs, including mammograms, colon cancer screenings, and diabetes screenings.  All of that will disappear if the ACA is repealed.”  He warned that the Part D Prescription Drug “donut hole” – which the ACA was rapidly closing – would return with repeal, costing the average beneficiary more than $1000 a year.

As the Washington Post reports, the Day of Action was the brainchild of Senator Bernie Sanders and other democratic leaders in Congress.  At rallies across the country, crowds heard poignant testimonials from Americans who benefitted from the Affordable Care Act.  Kate Barrett of Richmond worried that her daughter suffering from incurable cancer could be denied coverage or won’t be able to afford treatment if the ACA is repealed.  73-year old Scott Gledhill said he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer two months after signing up for Medicare. “My bill would have been half a million dollars. I would have lost everything I had, after a whole lifetime of work and saving.”

Day of Action organizers want Republicans in Congress to feel public pressure against ACA repeal, and urged attendees to contact their elected representatives right away.  “Don’t agonize. Organize!” was the rallying cry of the day, said Richtman.  “As we've learned from our past battles,” he explained, “Once politicians feel the heat, they begin to see the light.”




   

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