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Small Business Healthcare Proposal Threatens Access to Quality Care for Patients and Older Workers

Groups Work to Defeat S. 1955

AARP, the American Cancer Society Cancer Action NetworkSM (ACS CAN) and the American Diabetes Association are working together to defeat a proposal expected to be voted on in the US Senate in early May that could make health care coverage more expensive for sicker or older workers, and eliminate coverage protections for important health screenings and treatments for cancer, diabetes and other life-threatening or chronic illnesses.

These leading health and consumer organizations previewed a joint national advertising effort that will help educate voters about negative effects of the Health Insurance Marketplace Modernization and Affordability Act of 2006 (S. 1955). Sponsored by Senators Mike Enzi (R-WY) and Ben Nelson (D-NE) the bill could make it harder for workers age 50 and older to get a job that provides health insurance, among other things.

In addition, health advocates worry about the long-term effects this bill will have on citizens nationwide, as it would preempt state guarantees of coverage for health benefits such as mammography and other cancer screenings, emergency care, mental health services, and diabetes.

The groups' ad shows a picture of a "help wanted" sign, although it qualifies the application as "only the young and healthy need apply" (see attached ad).

The bill would allow any insurer to sell health policies that bypass state consumer protections requiring coverage for cancer screenings and treatments, diabetes supplies and education, well-child care and immunizations, maternity care, emergency services, and mental health care.

By doing so, Congress would partly undercut the states' traditional role of regulating the business of insurance, such as setting requirements for what benefits should be covered and how insurance should be priced. The bill would let insurance companies sell health policies that do not meet state requirements, such as fairness in pricing for those who are older and those who are sicker.

AARP CEO Bill Novelli explains, "While it is a laudable goal to make health insurance more accessible and affordable for small businesses, the 'Health Insurance Marketplace Modernization and Affordability Act' does so by giving these businesses an incentive to avoid hiring or retaining sicker or older workers."

"Ensuring access to cancer screenings and treatments is critical in the nation's effort to reduce cancer deaths," said John R. Seffrin, PhD, CEO of the American Cancer Society. "This bill would do more harm than good by undermining the critical work our volunteers and state legislators have done to ensure coverage for lifesaving mammograms, off-label prescription drugs and other benefits that help detect and treat cancer."

American Diabetes Association CEO Lynn Nicholas said, "Forty-six states currently require state-regulated insurers to cover diabetes supplies, medication and treatment. S.1955, however, would allow small business health plans to bypass these vital coverage regulations. This would be devastating to millions of Americans with diabetes to whom this assurance of coverage has been a lifeline, not a luxury."

The ad the groups previewed will start to run on Sunday in the Washington Post, New York Times, USA Today, Washington Times and Capitol Hill publications. A similar ad ran last Sunday in 18 states and has helped generate thousands of calls from voters to their members of Congress. The groups say there will be more ads to follow.

AARP is a nonprofit, nonpartisan membership organization that helps people 50+ have independence, choice and control in ways that are beneficial and affordable to them and society as a whole. We produce AARP The Magazine, published bimonthly; AARP Bulletin, our monthly newspaper; AARP Segunda Juventud, our bimonthly magazine in Spanish and English; NRTA Live & Learn, our quarterly newsletter for 50+ educators; and our website, AARP.org. AARP Foundation is an affiliated charity that provides security, protection, and empowerment to older persons in need with support from thousands of volunteers, donors, and sponsors. We have staffed offices in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

The American Diabetes Association is the nation's leading voluntary health organization supporting diabetes research, information and advocacy. The Association's advocacy efforts include helping to combat discrimination against people with diabetes; advocating for the increase of federal diabetes research and programs; and improved access to, and quality of, healthcare for people with diabetes. The Association's mission is to prevent and cure diabetes and to improve the lives of all people affected by diabetes. Founded in 1940, the Association provides service to hundreds of communities across the country.

ACS CAN is the nonprofit, nonpartisan sister advocacy organization of the American Cancer Society. ACS CAN is dedicated to eliminating cancer as a major public health problem through issue campaigns and voter education aimed at influencing candidates and lawmakers to support laws and policies that will help people fight cancer. ACS CAN does not endorse candidates and is not a political action committee (PAC). For more information, visit www.acscan.org.

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