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Health Care Takes Center Stage During Midterm Election

AARP's David Certner joins Bob Edwards to talk about the health care debate

Take on Today Podcast

AARP

Bob Edwards:

Hello, I'm Bob Edwards with an AARP Take on Today.

Voters across the country have made it abundantly clear that healthcare is the hot button issue they care most deeply about.

According to a large national AARP survey, about nine in ten voters age 50 and over agree that it's important to lower health costs, cut the price of prescription drugs and strengthen Medicare. But will it drive them to the polls and even more telling, influence whom they vote for?

While the Affordable Healthcare Act narrowly survived a repeal in Congress in early 2017, it's future existence is still very much in question and quite likely dependent on which party takes control of the house.

So, do you know how your representative voted? And more importantly, have the candidates in your district made their opinions on healthcare and the ACA perfectly clear?

Here to talk about why you should be heading to the polls armed with this knowledge is AARP Policy Expert David Certner.

[INTERVIEW BEGINS]

Bob Edwards:

Welcome to the program.

David Certner:
Thanks for having me.

Bob Edwards:

When Congress considered several healthcare bills last year, AARP told every member of Congress where they stand on this and promised to hold them accountable. Tell me about that and what AARP is doing now.

David Certner:            

Well, of course, the big debate over health care was last year on the Congress. There were a number of bills put forward to try to change the law, which was in place, the Affordable Care Act and the Affordable Care Act was critical for older persons in particular because quite frankly, prior to the Affordable Care Act, we had seen the largest group of uninsured in this country, the largest growing group of uninsured was the age 50 plus population and it was due to primarily two things.

David Certner:            
One, the fact that insurance companies could deny health care coverage to people with a preexisting condition and two, the fact that they can charge older American's five times or more for health insurance than everyone else and the Affordable Care Act remedied both of those problems.

Bob Edwards:

Hm. So, I guess it's obvious why AARP is so committed to this issue.

David Certner:

Exactly. So, we saw the uninsured rate plunge dramatically for those over the age of 50-plus and we saw costs for insurance for older persons go down dramatically from what insurance companies were allowed to charge older persons before the Affordable Care Act. So, our big effort last year was to make sure that we protected those two critical consumer protections for older Americans.

Bob Edwards: 

So, this is the big issue for the over 50 crowd. What about other voters?

David Certner:

Well, actually, preexisting conditions is a pretty big issue for most populations because anyone can have a preexisting condition. We know it's a big deal for people over the age of 50 because nearly 40 percent of all people over the age of 50 have a preexisting condition, but we know that millions of Americans from all ages have a preexisting condition and if you can't get insurance or have to pay a lot more, don't have that particular illness or injury covered, then you're really not being covered for the thing you need coverage for.

Bob Edwards:

During the lame duck session after the election, do you think Congress will pursue more efforts to repeal the ACA?

David Certner:

I don't think we'll see it in the lame duck, but depending on how the election goes and according to what some have said, this issue could very well come back again next year and we could again have this issue of preexisting conditions, we could again have this issue of how much you can charge older Americans. Something AARP has dubbed the "age tax" because you could potentially go back to the bad old days when you can charge seniors five times or more for health care. We could potentially have all those issues come back again next year depending on the outcome of this election.

Bob Edwards:

We hear about the age tax. What is that and what impact could it have economically on 50 plus voters?

David Certner:            

Well, the age tax in AARP has dubbed that the age tax is really critical for the affordability of health insurance for older Americans. Prior to the ACA, insurance companies could charge five, six, up to 10 times or more for health insurance for older Americans, basically making insurance unaffordable and the Affordable Care Act basically limited how much more you could charge older Americans and also provided some additional help for lower income seniors who couldn't afford their insurance. Basically, what these bills would do would end those protections, go back to the bad old days when insurers could charge much more, therefore costing seniors anywhere up to $13,000 more per year for insurance. So, dramatic increases in their insurance costs and we dubbed that the age tax because it would cause seniors so much more out of pocket to be able to get their healthcare and the end result, quite frankly, of this would be that more seniors simply couldn't afford the health insurance or if they felt the need and had to buy health insurance, just simply wouldn't have a whole lot left over to live the rest of their lives in any kind of form of economic security.

Bob Edwards: 

Wow. You think we got our listeners attention yet?

David Certner:            

I hope so. It's a pretty big deal.

Bob Edwards:

How come this keeps boomeranging? Why can't we fix this?

David Certner:

Well, in part, we did fix this with the Affordable Care Act, but there are still some who believe that the Affordable Care Act shouldn't protect preexisting conditions or should allow insurance companies to be able to charge people more and there are efforts right now at the regulatory effort level coming out to basically allow these practices to continue, something that we thought we had banned with the Affordable Care Act.

Bob Edwards:

So, how will people be impacted if these bills pass?

David Certner:            

Well, what we expect to see is that insurance, particularly for those who need it the most, so people who have preexisting conditions, people who are older, we expect that their insurance rates will begin to climb dramatically. We're going to start splitting the pool up again so that those who don't think they need insurance, younger people, healthier people, can go into one pool where insurance will be cheaper, but the coverage will be a lot skimpier. Should they need it, they'll be in trouble. And then you'll have people who are older and with preexisting conditions all pushed into another pool where they're going to be charged a lot more money if they can afford it at all and we don't want to go back to those bad old days. We want to make sure we have affordable coverage for everyone.

Bob Edwards:

But we're so numerous. Won't that keep it down?

David Certner:

Well, if you're numerous, but you're sick, it's not a very good pool. You want to have a big pool that has both healthy and sick people in it because first of all, no one really knows when they're really going to need health insurance and how sick they're going to get. Even a healthy person can get into a car accident or unfortunately come down with a bad disease.

Bob Edwards:

How can our listeners find out how their representatives and senators voted on healthcare?

David Certner:            
Well, we made a big deal about this last year and we told members of Congress, look, these were important votes for our membership, important goals for older Americans in general and we told them last year, these are very important votes. We're going to make sure that our members know how everyone voted on these bills because they are so important.

David Certner:
So, we are now publishing again, we did last year, but we're doing it again to remind people because we think these votes are so important. We're publishing these votes online. So, you can go, look up your member of Congress, see exactly how they voted, the key bills in both the House and the Senate last year. You can go to AARP.org/vote and you can find out how every member of Congress voted on the key bills last year.

Bob Edwards:
Thank you so much.

David Certner:            
Thank you.

Bob Edwards:

That was AARP’s David Certner.  Make sure you know where your representative and senators stand on health care before Election Day by visiting AARP.org/vote.

[TRANSITION]

Bob Edwards:

For more information on the midterm elections, visit AARP dot org where you can find stories on election topics that voters age 50 and over care most about, initiatives on state ballots and AARP video voters’ guides on gubernatorial races in many states. You can also ask your voice-activated smart speaker to "open Raise Your Voice" to hear AARP's take on issues like Medicare, Social Security and prescription drug savings.  You'll also be able to find your polling place and get other election-related information.

Bob Edwards:

For more, visit AARP dot org slash podcast. Become a subscriber, and be sure to rate our podcast on iTunes, Stitcher and other podcast apps.

Thanks for listening.  I’m Bob Edwards.

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Voters across the country have made it abundantly clear that health care is the hot-button issue they care about most. So, do you know where candidates in your district and stand? On this week's episode of An AARP Take on Today, AARP’s David Certner discusses last year’s health care debate and how AARP is informing its 38 million members about how their elected officials voted.

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