Legislative Update for Week Ending March 17, 2017

Legislative Update for Week Ending March 17, 2017

This week, the American Health Care Act (AHCA) continued to advance through the House, and lawmakers in the Senate voted to confirm Seema Verma as the new administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).

AHCA Advances Through House

On Monday, the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released its highly-anticipated report analyzing the AHCA – legislation from Republican lawmakers that would replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA) if signed into law.

As was noted in last week’s update, the AHCA would reform the current health system and negatively impact older Americans in several ways. It would restructure the Medicaid program, which funds nursing home care for many qualified Medicare beneficiaries. It would base premium subsidies on age instead of income, while allowing private health insurers to charge older Americans five times more than they charge younger folks for their coverage. And it would deplete Medicare’s Hospital Insurance Trust Fund by eliminating two revenue sources that the ACA created, creating a funding crisis for the program.

In the new report from the CBO, estimates show that if the AHCA is adopted, 14 million individuals would likely lose their health insurance coverage next year. By 2026, that number would rise to 26 million. For low-income seniors between the ages of 50 and 64, the uninsured rate would more than double under the AHCA, from 12 percent to 30 percent. That’s because premiums would jump by so much for older Americans – by over 700 percent in many cases – they would likely be priced out of the individual health insurance market.

Mary Johnson, a policy analyst for The Senior Citizens League (TSCL), said earlier this week: “The combination of higher premium costs and lower premium subsidies that people would receive under the replacement plan would make health insurance unaffordable for millions of low and middle income Americans … Anyone who cares about his or her health coverage should contact their Members of Congress now.”

Despite opposition to the AHCA from many in Washington – including TSCL – the House Budget Committee advanced the bill on Thursday with a vote of 19-17. It now moves to the House Rules Committee, and leaders in Congress are predicting votes on the House floor could occur as early as next week. In the Senate, votes are expected before the holiday recess begins on April 7th.

In the coming days and weeks, TSCL will monitor the AHCA’s movement very closely, and we will continue to advocate against provisions of the bill that would jeopardize the health of older Americans. For progress updates, follow TSCL on Twitter or Facebook.

Senate Confirms New CMS Administrator

On Monday, with a vote mostly along party lines of 55-43, lawmakers in the Senate confirmed the nomination of Seema Verma, who now serves as the administrator of the $1 trillion agency that has jurisdiction over Medicare and Medicaid. Previously, Verma worked as a health care consultant, and she played a leading role in redesigning Indiana’s Medicaid program under then-Governor Mike Pence.

Verma has an extensive background working with the Medicaid program, but she lacks experience working on complicated Medicare issues. Should Republicans in Congress successfully repeal the ACA as planned, she will oversee the transition period, as well as the implementation of a possible replacement plan. Verma will also be tasked with administering the Medicare program as it navigates a funding crisis caused by the ACA’s expected repeal.

In her new role as CMS administrator, Verma will report to Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, who has authored several Medicare reform plans in recent years. His proposals would increase the Medicare eligibility age from 65 to 67 while adopting a “premium support” model, where beneficiaries would be given vouchers from the federal government to purchase private health insurance.

TSCL opposes such plans since evidence shows they would result in higher out-of-pocket costs for most older Americans, and we will advocate against them as the administration attempts to build support. To stay updated on the latest Medicare reform news from Washington, visit the Legislative News section of our website.