For many older Amer­i­cans, costs rise in GOP health plan

The Denver Post - - FRONT PAGE - By Michael Rubinkam, Kelli Kennedy and Meghan Hoyer

new ring­gold, pa.» Among the groups hit hard­est by the Re­pub­li­can plan to re­place the Af­ford­able Care Act is one that swung for Don­ald Trump dur­ing last year’s pres­i­den­tial race — older Amer­i­cans who have not yet reached Medi­care age.

Many of those who buy their own health in­sur­ance stand to pay a lot more for their cov­er­age. That is es­pe­cially true for the nearly 3.4 mil­lion older Amer­i­cans who have en­rolled through the gov­ern­ment mar­ket­places, many of whom re­ceive gen­er­ous fed­eral sub­si­dies through the health care law en­acted un­der for­mer Pres­i­dent Barack Obama.

Health care ex­perts pre­dict those older adults will end up buy­ing skimpier plans with lower cov­er­age and higher de­ductibles be­cause that’s all they will be able to af­ford. The Re­pub­li­can plan re­places the sub­si­dies in the Af­ford­able Care Act, which mostly ben­e­fit low- and mid­dle-in­come earn­ers, with a flat tax credit that does not take into ac­count in­come or lo­cal in­sur­ance prices.

On top of that, the GOP plan al­lows in­sur­ers to charge older peo­ple five times what they charge younger cus­tomers, com­pared with three times un­der Obama’s health care law.

The Re­pub­li­can plan is still evolv­ing, and many GOP law­mak­ers have said they want to see changes that re­duce the im­pact on older con­sumers be­fore they can sup­port it.

Based on the cur­rent plan, an As­so­ci­ated Press anal­y­sis of data from the Kaiser Fam­ily Foun­da­tion shows older con­sumers, de­fined as those age 55 and older, would be dis­pro­por­tion­ately af­fected. They could lose thou­sands of dol­lars per year in gov­ern­ment sub­si­dies for health in­sur­ance.

The AP anal­y­sis also found that, on av­er­age, the coun­ties with the strong­est Trump sup­port will see costs for older en­rollees rise 50 per­cent more than the coun­ties that had the least amount of sup­port for Trump.

“A lot of peo­ple just won’t be able to af­ford to pay it. A lot of peo­ple are go­ing to drop out of the mar­ket al­to­gether,” said Kaiser’s Cyn­thia Cox.

That in­cludes older vot­ers who helped put Trump in the White House.

Take Schuylkill County, Pa., an eco­nom­i­cally strug­gling for­mer coal-min­ing cen­ter where the New York bil­lion­aire won 70 per­cent of the vote in Novem­ber.

About 40 per­cent of Schuylkill County’s Af­ford­able Care Act en­rollees are 55 or older, more than 10 points higher than the na­tional av­er­age. A 60-yearold mak­ing $30,000 an­nu­ally there will pay about $8,750 more per year for cov­er­age un­der the Re­pub­li­can plan mov­ing through Congress, ac­cord­ing to the AP anal­y­sis.

“When it comes to food or in­sur­ance, it’s go­ing to be an easy choice,” said Matt Strauss, a health in­sur­ance bro­ker in New Ring­gold, some of whose cus­tomers voted for Trump.

Older Amer­i­cans on both ends of the po­lit­i­cal spec­trum say they are wor­ried about what the future holds. Here are some of their sto­ries:

Florida

Trump sup­porter and long­time Re­pub­li­can Robert Rus­coe, who runs a Florida liq­ui­dat­ing busi­ness with his wife, said he is not feel­ing “warm and fuzzy” about the GOP health care plan.

He went about five years with­out in­sur­ance be­cause it was fi­nan­cially out of reach. When in­sur­ance be­came avail­able through the Af­ford­able Care Act, Rus­coe and his wife were able to get a pol­icy for about $350 per month, af­ter a $700 monthly subsidy from the gov­ern­ment.

“It’snice­to­be­able­to­goto the doc­tor when­ever some­thing comes up. It gives you a peace ... es­pe­cially when you get close to 60,” said Rus­coe, 57, of West Palm Beach, Fla.

He said he didn’t hes­i­tate to sign up through the Af­ford­able Care Act, a pro­gram his party spent years vow­ing to dis­man­tle.

“It doesn’t mat­ter who came up with it. It’s a good thing to be sup­port­ing across party lines,” he said.

Oklahoma

Anna Hol­loway of Nor­man, Okla., who takes daily med­i­ca­tion for an au­toim­mune dis­ease, said she is fear­ful the GOP plan will price her out of the mar­ket for health in­sur­ance.

“I am con­scious of just how des­per­ate this is,” said Hol­loway, 60, fight­ing back tears. “I try not to let my­self feel this way, but to live this way with real ter­ror, real fear that the uni­verse is go­ing to fall apart around me.”

She takes home about $1,150 per month from four part-time jobs. That’s only $250 more than the monthly pre­mium for a health care plan that in­cludes Hol­loway and her 23-year-old daugh­ter. With­out the gov­ern­ment subsidy that makes the pol­icy af­ford­able, she would have to drop it.

The Kaiser anal­y­sis es­ti­mates that a fam­ily plan in Nor­man un­der the cur­rent Re­pub­li­can pro­posal would cost as much as $20,000 more for some­one in Hol­loway’s in­come and age bracket.

“I’d go with­out health care. I would get sicker, and that would make it more dif­fi­cult to work. I would even­tu­ally have to stop work­ing,” said Hol­loway, a reg­is­tered Demo­crat who voted for Hil­lary Clin­ton.

Penn­syl­va­nia

The Af­ford­able Care Act didn’t work for Wendy Kline, a hair­styl­ist in Harrisburg, Pa., who voted for Trump.

Kline tried buy­ing a pol­icy on the fed­eral ex­change but found that she made too much money to qual­ify for a gov­ern­ment subsidy. So she was stuck pay­ing the mar­ket rate.

Her pol­icy jumped this year from $630 to $929 per month. As a re­sult, the 61year-old isn’t able to save much for re­tire­ment.

“I try to put as much away as I can, but my health in­sur­ance is $30 less than my mort­gage pay­ment,” said Kline, who works two jobs.

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