Provision in ACA replacement plan would hit older consumers hard
March 16, 2017 1:36 AM
GeorgeAnne and Dan Muchnok run a small telecommunications consulting business out of their Edgewood home.
Dan Muchnok, 52, works at his desk at his home Wednesday in Edgewood,.
GeorgeAnne and Dan Muchnok currently pay $664 a month for their joint insurance coverage, plus a $350 subsidy from the government.
By Tracie Mauriello and Sean D. Hamill / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
When the Republicans’ proposed replacement for the Affordable Care Act came out last week, GeorgeAnne and Dan Muchnok read it over very carefully.
They realized quickly that they would be among the biggest losers if the replacement plan is approved as is.
In particular, a provision that would allow insurers to charge older buyers (50 to 64 years-old) of government marketplace insurance five times — rather than three times under current law — what younger customers would pay, would hit them hard.
“To me, that’s age discrimination,” said Ms. Muchnok, 54, who, with her husband, Dan, 52, runs a small telecommunications consulting business out of their Edgewood home. “If that happens, we wouldn’t be able to afford our insurance.”
They currently pay $664 a month for their joint insurance coverage, plus a $350 subsidy from the government. Under the current proposal, they project their monthly premium would possibly double, to more than $1,200 a month.
“Then it becomes like a mortgage,” she said.
“To me, that’s age discrimination,” Ms. Muchnok, 54, said of a provision that would allow insurers to charge older buyers (50 to 64 years old) of government marketplace insurance five times what younger customers would pay. “If that happens, we wouldn’t be able to afford our insurance.” (Peter Diana/Post-Gazette)
Since 2005, Ms. Muchnok has been battling melanoma, and just last fall had surgery to remove a cancerous spot in surgery that costs $23,000, but was mostly covered thanks to her UPMC marketplace insurance.
“I need to have health insurance,” she said. “And if this passes, in order to get health insurance, we’d have to shut down our business and look for an employer who would give us — two people in their 50s — jobs with benefits. That would be tough.”
People like the Muchnoks are why U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., took aim at Republican colleagues and the Trump administration for what he called their “maniacal obsession” with cutting taxes on the wealthy, their Obamacare replacement plan and for their criticism of Monday’s Congressional Budget Office report.
The CBO report was a blow to Republicans. It projected that their proposed health plan would increase the number of uninsured Americans by 24 million even as it cut the deficit by $337 billion over 10 years.
Congressional Republicans balked and Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price said the White House “disagreed strenuously” with the report even as Politico turned up an administration projection that forecast even more people — 26 million — would lose their insurance.
The White House told Politico that the leaked document was not an analysis at all. Rather it was the administration’s projection of what the CBO report would be using CBO’s methodology, which the White House disagreed with.
“The CBO is an umpire. The Republicans don’t like the call so they want to fire the umpire,” Mr. Casey told reporters Wednesday.
He noted that Mr. Price, as former House Budget Committee chairman, helped select CBO chief Keith Hall.
“For years experts around the country looked at CBO as a neutral and respected scorekeeper. … That doesn’t mean that CBO has a perfect score on every pronouncement that was ever made, but it’s the common place in Washington you can go for objective, neutral assessments,” Mr. Casey said.
And he didn’t stop there.
“The common bond between Donald Trump, his administration and congressional Republicans is a maniacal obsession with giving huge tax cuts to the rich no matter the consequences,” said the typically reserved senator, whose criticism of Republicans has become more caustic as his 2018 re-election approaches.
Their plan calls for $592 billion less in revenue collections over 10 years by repealing fees imposed on health insurers, walking back an Obamacare increase in the Hospital Insurance payroll tax rate for high-income tax payers, and dropping a surtax on investment income.
“They’re trying to slap together a flawed healthcare proposal which is really just a giveaway to the rich. That’s what this is all about,” Mr. Casey said. “They’re obsessed with giving tax cuts, and that’s the whole picture here.”
Sally Jo Snyder, director of advocacy and consumer engagement at the Consumer Health Coalition in Pittsburgh, said the negative impact on older insurance buyers makes even less sense since the 50- to 64-year-old age group includes the Baby Boom generation, a large segment of the country’s population.
Over the last three years, the Consumer Health Coalition has been a federal contractor helping people navigate the ACA, and it assisted about 2,500 people getting marketplace insurance.
That was just a fraction of the 39,000 adults who bought insurance through the marketplace in Allegheny County, according to a study by the Pennsylvania Health Funders Collaborative, a nonprofit coalition of 40 health foundations across Pennsylvania.
While all of the 320,000 people in Pennsylvania who get a subsidy to buy insurance will be impacted if the law passes as proposed, consumers in places like Allegheny County, with high medical costs, will see a harsher impact, said Ann Torregrosaa, executive director of the collaborative.
“In a higher medical cost market like Allegheny County, you’ll have more exposure to higher premiums,” she said.
An analysis of the proposed replacement plan by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a nonprofit and nonpartisan research institute in Washington, D.C., found that subsidies for the typical consumer in Pennsylvania would fall by $2,188 by 2020.
That, combined with premiums expected to rise anywhere from 20 to 25 percent across the board, means most of the 2,500 people the Consumer Health Coalition helped get insurance won’t be able to afford coverage, Ms. Snyder said.
“This is our version of March Madness,” she said, “except the only net being cut is the health safety net.”
Tracie Mauriello: email@example.com. Sean D. Hamill: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-2579 or Twitter: @SeanDHamill.
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