The American Health Care Act (AHCA), pulled from the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives last month in the face of bipartisan opposition, has resurfaced this week with a highly controversial new feature: Insurance companies would be able to charge you higher premiums if you have a preexisting condition such as cancer, diabetes or heart disease.
This latest amendment, which helped the bill gain the support of a majority of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, represents a dramatic change from current law that bars insurers from discriminating against people with preexisting health conditions.
While the proposed amendment won backing from conservatives, it raised concerns among Republican moderates, Democrats and consumer groups. The prospects for the bill remain highly uncertain.
AARP said in a statement that it “continues to oppose legislation that would impose an age tax, eliminate protections for preexisting conditions, weaken Medicare, erode seniors’ ability to live independently because of billions of dollars in Medicaid cuts, and give sweetheart deals to drug and insurance companies while doing nothing to lower the cost of health care or prescription drugs.”
AARP sent a letter Wednesday to each member of the House, reiterating its pledge “to let all 38 million of our members know exactly how their representative votes on this bill.”
Allowing insurance companies to charge prohibitively high rates for people with prior health issues would hit especially hard those older adults who are too young to qualify for Medicare. Forty percent of Americans ages 50 to 64 — a total of 25 million people — have a preexisting condition, according to the AARP Public Policy Institute (PPI).
This legislation also includes an increase in what AARP calls the age tax. Under current law, insurers cannot charge older consumers more than three times the amount younger adults pay. The previous version of the AHCA would have raised the limit to five times what younger consumers pay. The latest version would eliminate the limit entirely.
States that want to allow insurers to charge more for people with preexisting conditions would have to have a high-risk pool program or a reinsurance program. For consumers who have buy coverage in a high-risk pool, AARP’s PPI projects that the premiums could reach $25,700 a year in 2019, when this provision would go into effect.
The AHCA was shelved last month after the Congressional Budget Office reported the legislation would lead to a loss of coverage for 24 million Americans over the next decade. The CBO also found the AHCA would cause a sharp increase in premiums for people ages 50 to 64.
The legislation additionally would worsen Medicare’s finances, the CBO said. And it would do nothing to reduce the rising cost of prescription drugs.
At the same time, AARP says, the legislation would provide a windfall for special interests in the health care industry, including insurers and drugmakers.
If you would like to tell your congressional representatives to vote no, you can do so through a letter online.