Look Ahead: AARP Advocacy Director On Health Care Bill

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Premiere Date: 
March 17, 2017

Look Ahead: AARP Advocacy Director On Health Care Bill

Lisa Lamkins is the federal advocacy director for AARP Wisconsin. AARP is lobbying hard against the GOP American Health Care Act. It's worried about potential negative affects on the country's elderly.

Episode Transcript

Frederica Freyberg:

And now a "look ahead" to the hard lobby against the American Health Care Act from the AARP, which is worried about how the plan treats the elderly. Joining us now is Lisa Lamkins, the Federal Advocacy Director for AARP Wisconsin. Thanks for being here.

Lisa Lamkins:

Glad to be here.

Frederica Freyberg:

So how unusual is this hard lobby on the part of AARP?

Lisa Lamkins:

A lot of times AARP will express our concerns about pieces of legislation or we'll hope for tweeks but in this case we really are vehemently opposed to the American Health Care Act. It does nothing but increase cost, increase risk, really make health insurance unaffordable and unattainable for older Americans.

Frederica Freyberg:

So if premiums for older Americans between 50 and 64, but particularly at the upper range of 64, are allowed to be five times that of policies for younger people, what does that mean to a 64-year-old?

Lisa Lamkins:

It is huge. I think this is one of the things when we talk about this. What it really amounts to is an age tax. This is something that the federal government is imposing simply because someone is older. You take an average 64-year-old making a little over $26,000 a year. Right now they would pay about $1700 a year in premiums. Under this new bill that would be closer to $14,000 in premiums. That's huge.

Frederica Freyberg:

So do you suspect then that there will be a number of people who will just forego coverage?

Lisa Lamkins:

Absolutely. You know, the Republicans are talking a lot about access to coverage. But access does not make something affordable. I really like the analogy too of we all have access to luxury goods right now. I could go down and buy a super expensive car. But I can't because I can't afford that. And unfortunately we're looking at a group of people who really will not be able to afford such egregious increases in their health insurance premiums.

Frederica Freyberg:

So is the message the AART is trying to send to Washington being heard, do you know?

Lisa Lamkins:

I think it is. AARP is getting a lot of good press, a lot of attention. This is a message that really resonates because so many people are impacted by it. We are talking about older, low-income Americans, people in rural areas. People are worried. You're looking at 50 to 64-year-olds who are thinking, 'Gosh this is a point in my life when I really need insurance. What will happen if it's $15,000 a year?"

Frederica Freyberg:

At 65 though, that one year older than the age we've been talking about, people can go on Medicare and the president has vowed not to touch Medicare. But you see that this bill leaves the door open to turning it into a voucher program. How does it do that?

Lisa Lamkins:

Well, one of our concerns is under the American Health Care Act it actually does away with some funding. There's been a tax on higher-income Americans, a little bit extra added tax on wealthier people that has been funneled to Medicare’s hospital insurance trust fund. So it's actually extended the life of Medicare. This bill does away with that extra money coming into Medicare. So we're concerned that if the solvency of Medicare is worsening, that just leaves Medicare open to those who already want to gut and change the program.

Frederica Freyberg:

And so it's not something in this particular plan that talks about that, turning it into a voucher kind of program, but it's just the concern on AARP's part that it could lead to that.

Lisa Lamkins:

Right. Well, and they wouldn't be able to do it under sort of the rules of this particular bill, but it's very well-known that Speaker Ryan, HHS Secretary Price would like to turn Medicare into that voucher program. And that would frankly be disastrous for the millions of people in America who rely on Medicare.

Frederica Freyberg:

And then what about Medicaid as that affects the elderly population?

Lisa Lamkins:

A lot of people don't think about it, but in looking at this overhaul to Medicaid, which is a ginormous cut and would wreak havoc with the program, older people depend on Medicaid for long term care. For nursing home care, for home and community based services, for those things that help older people and people with disabilities, actually, with things like eating, bathing, dressing, medication management. All of that is covered by Medicaid. If the cuts that happen as part of the American Health Care Act, then those services just will not be there for the people who are really and truly depending on it.

Frederica Freyberg:

Will Wisconsin be treated differently in all of that because we did not take the expansion?

Lisa Lamkins:

You know, it's going to be really interesting to see how that actually shakes out. I think the Medicaid issue is one where we're hearing from governors, where governors including Governor Walker, are saying, "Hey, let's move slowly. Let's take a look at how we make this happen." Right now they're looking at doling out these block grants based on the number of people who are enrolled in Medicaid. Well, Wisconsin’s Medicaid population didn't increase hugely because we didn't take the expansion. So I think the actual details of what that's going to look like is going to be one of the biggest parts of this whole health care debate.

Frederica Freyberg:

Thanks for joining us, Lisa Lamkins.

Lisa Lamkins:

Thank you.

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