DENVER -- You’re going to be seeing a lot of a new TV ad by AARP that says the health care bill passed by House Republican earlier this month will boost insurance rates for older Americans – especially those with pre-existing conditions.
The ad just began airing – and it will run 16 times Tuesday alone -- and it will keep running until June 1.
The ad urges viewers to call on five key Republican senators – including Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado – to vote against the House bill. Gardner and the other senators – Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan of Alaska, Jeff Flake of Arizona, and Dean Heller of Nevada – have all expressed reservations about the bill, said AARP, an advocacy group for older Americans that has nearly 38 million members.
The ad shows an older couple meeting with their accountant.
“All right, let’s get started. You’re both over 50?” the accountant asks.
“Yes,” the wife replies.
“OK, that’ll cost you,” the accountant says.
“Why?” the wife asks.
“Uh, the new health care bill in Congress. If you’re over 50, insurance companies can charge you five times more. It’s an age tax,” the accountant explains.
We asked Adam Fox of the nonpartisan Colorado Consumer Health Initiative to review the ad.
He said its claims are largely accurate based on the bill the House Republicans passed May 4 to replace the Affordable Care Act – also known as Obamacare.
Under Obamacare, insurers could only charge older Americans rates that are three times higher than younger customers. But the GOP bill would allow insurers to charge older people premiums that are five times higher than younger Americans.
A March report by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) confirmed that under the House bill, known as the American Health Care Act, “insurers would be allowed to generally charge five times more for older enrollees than younger ones rather than three times more as under current law, substantially reducing premiums for young adults and substantially raising premiums for older people."
But House Republicans who support the bill point to a 2016 CBO report that said Obamacare’s limit on charging older people more than three times what younger people pay in effect boosts premiums for younger, healthier people – discouraging them from buying health insurance.
Backers of the House bill say the so-called 5-to-1 ratio – allowing insurers to charge older people five times more for insurance – reflects the actual cost of health care, because older, less-healthier people have higher medical needs.
The ad doesn’t stop there.
“Any pre-existing conditions?” the accountant asks.
“I have asthma,” the husband says.
“OK, well, insurers can charge thousands more for that...This is going to be a big bill,” the accountant warns.
Could that happen?
Under the Affordable Care Act, insurance companies can’t refuse to cover someone or charge them more because they have a pre-existing condition.
Fox said the House Republican bill allows states to request waivers from the federal government that would allow insurers to charge higher premiums to people with pre-existing conditions. That would impact older Americans more because of their higher risk for complications from pre-existing conditions.
Colorado’s Democratic elected leaders have embraced the Affordable Care Act, which provided about 500,000 more residents with health insurance coverage.
Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, has criticized the House legislation, saying: “This new bill threatens to end health insurance coverage for hundreds of thousands of hard working Coloradans, by cutting important tax credits and critical federal funding. The new changes do not adequately protect people with pre-existing conditions.”
“Colorado’s current political landscape might averse to taking those waivers,” Fox said. But he added that, if the House bill becomes law, “it puts a lot of power in the hands of insurance companies to push for these waivers.”
Fox noted that several Colorado counties only have one insurance company on the state marketplace. This could lead to an insurer telling the state, “Either you take this waiver or we stop offering individual insurance," he said.
The AARP ad ends with the narrator saying, “Tell Senator Gardner vote no on the health care bill” and gives a phone number.
Yet, Gardner can’t vote on the House bill because it hasn’t been formally movef to the Senate.
Meanwhile, Gardner and other senators are working are their own health care legislation.
Senator Gardner released this statement to Denver7:
“The Senate is currently working on legislation to repair the severe damages Obamacare has had on Coloradan’s healthcare, and it’s odd that this group paid thousands of dollars telling Coloradan’s to urge a no vote in the Senate on legislation that is not actually going to be voted on in the Senate. Additionally, as a father to a two-year-old daughter with a pre-existing condition, I know firsthand how important it is that people with pre-existing conditions continue to have coverage. I’ll continue to speak out about this as the Senate works on its legislation to decrease healthcare costs and increase access to quality care.”