AARP warns Republicans it has 'strong opposition' to Obamacare replacement bill

Key Points
  • A new CBO score estimates older Americans could see much higher costs under the House-passed health-care bill.
  • AARP has criticized the plan for its effects on older Americans and has previously hit lawmakers who supported the proposal.
  • The Senate is signaling the CBO score is another reason to work on a vastly different plan.
AARP warns Republicans it has 'strong opposition' to Obamacare replacement bill

The House-backed health care bill will make insurance costs leap for some older Americans, according to the government's own estimate, and the AARP is giving Republicans an earful.

In a new report, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated that the American Health Care Act will lead to 23 million more uninsured people in 2026 than under current law. For some older Americans, insurance premiums will explode, the CBO says — increasing to almost 9½ times what those people are currently paying in some cases

The CBO found that average premiums for Americans will generally fall, though whether states decide to take waivers allowed under the plan will affect how much costs spike for older people.

Overall, the CBO assessment does not bode well for coverage of older Americans with lower incomes. The AARP, the influential lobbying group that advocates for seniors, seized on the estimates, voicing "strong opposition" to what it called a "harmful bill."

"Putting a greater financial burden on older Americans is not the way to solve the problems in our health care system," the AARP said in a statement.

The CBO estimates that the increase in the number of uninsured people "would be disproportionately larger among older people with lower income — particularly people between 50 and 64 years old with income of less than 200 percent of the federal poverty level."

Additionally, the CBO said one rule change under the plan, effective in 2019, "would directly alter the premiums faced by different age groups, substantially reducing premiums for young adults and raising premiums for older people."

The CBO estimates that a 64-year-old with an income of $26,500, or 175 percent of the federal poverty level, could see premiums skyrocket by 800 percent or more in 2026 under the proposal, depending on whether states use waivers.

Those premium estimates break down this way in 2026:

  • A 64-year-old with $26,500 in income would pay a net premium of $1,700 under current law. That would spike to $16,100 in a state requesting no waivers and $13,600 in a state requesting "moderate" changes to regulations.
  • A 64-year-old with $68,200 in income would see a much smaller effect. A net premium of $15,300 under current law would rise to $16,100 in a state requesting no waivers and fall to $13,600 in a state with "moderate" revisions to regulations.
  • In contrast, a 21-year-old making $26,500 with a net premium of $1,700 under the law now would see it rise to $1,750 in states not requesting waivers and see it fall to $1,250 in states making "moderate" changes.

The CBO estimates that in states that make "moderate" revisions to regulations, premiums would largely fall — because plans would cover fewer benefits. But relatively healthy and young people are likely to prefer those plans more than older Americans, who "could face substantial out of-pocket costs," the CBO said.

The CBO score did not explicitly clarify how the plan would affect people over 65, who are eligible for Medicare. However, AARP contended Wednesday that those Americans could also take a hit, saying more costs could potentially shift to seniors.

AARP has clout in Washington

The AARP is one of the most active lobbies in Washington — its $8.7 million in spending in 2016 ranked 34th out of 3,729 organizations tracked by the Center for Responsive Politics. At least as potent as the group's spending is its ability to influence a bloc of people who are active voters.

The group has already put itself into the debate. When the bill was under consideration in the House, the AARP targeted some lawmakers with phone calls and radio ads.

The age group is key for Republicans, including President Donald Trump. Only 37 percent of Americans in a recent Quinnipiac University poll approved of the job he is doing overall, but that number was 42 percent among people ages 50 to 64.

Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine — who chairs the Senate Aging Committee — cited costs for older Americans as a concern shortly after the CBO score came out Wednesday.

"The goal of any [Obamacare] replacement should be to improve access to quality health care while providing consumers with more choices and restraining costs. Unfortunately, the CBO estimates that 23 million Americans would lose insurance coverage over the next decade, and the impact would disproportionately affect older, low-income Americans," she said.

Collins and Republican Sen. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana — who has also called the House plan inadequate — have proposed an alternative bill for the Senate to consider.

GOP Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, who chairs the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee and is part of a 13-member health-care working group, reiterated that the Senate would make a plan that differs from the House proposal.

"It's informative to know the estimated impact of the House health care bill, but the Senate is writing its own bill, which will receive its own score from the Congressional Budget Office before the Senate votes," Alexander said in a statement.

The GOP — which holds 52 of 100 seats in the Senate — will almost certainly look to pass a health-care plan by a majority vote, without Democratic help. A bill that differs from the House version would have to go back to the House for consideration.