COLUMBUS — The American Association of Retired People will continue to work with Congress to reach an agreement on health care reform, said Kathy Keller, Associate State Director of Communications for AARP Ohio. This comes after AARP endorsed the plan passed by the House of Representatives, but declined to endorse the version passed by the Senate.
“It’s another great step forward,” Keller said of the Senate plan, nonetheless pointing out that it contained some features that AARP hoped to see changed, such as age ratings. With the current lack of regulation, insurance companies cannot only charge older customers higher rates, there is no limit on how high those rates can go. Keller said that AARP has seen instances where the elderly were charged 10 times as high a fee for the same coverage offered younger customers. The House bill caps the up-charge at a two-to-one ratio, while the Senate bill places the cutoff at a three-to-one ratio. Thus, under the Senate plan, insurance companies could still charge up to three times as much to elderly customers.
The areas to be concentrated upon by AARP in its discussions with the legislative bodies in Washington will be lowering costs, protecting choices, ending discrimination and creating a stable and affordable health care system, Keller said.
“We’re confident we can get our Congress to pass historic legislation improving health care,” she said.
Keller said that AARP’s Ohio membership has expressed an overwhelming interest in seeing health care reform, cutting across party and ideological lines. For instance, Keller said that 77 percent of AARP members in Ohio say that pre-existing conditions should not rule out coverage. Likewise, 81 percent of respondents said that routine check-ups and preventive care should be covered at no extra charge, while 68 percent were in favor of closing the Medicare Part D coverage gap, popularly known as the “Medicare doughnut hole,” which leaves a gap between the initial prescription drug coverage limit and the catastrophic coverage threshold.
Part of the work for AARP has been partnering with the American Medical Association to combat myths being circulated by both the misinformed and by opponents of the proposed reform. One of the most persistent is the notion that reform will lead to new levels of health care rationing.
“It’s just not true,” Keller said. “That’s a boogie man they throw up there.” As she pointed out, no one calls it rationing when private insurance companies currently decide how much coverage people will get, even though it is clearly the same thing.
Keller said that AARP will keep pushing for a legislative agreement because bad health hurts the economy.
“It makes a lot more sense to help people get blood pressure medicine in time to help them than to treat them for strokes or heart attacks later on,” Keller said, explaining that high deductibles under the current system lead people to put off getting the necessary care, allowing problems to develop into major issues before the insured person sees a doctor.
“It’s cheaper in the long run,” Keller added, pointing out that one way or another the country collectively pays for uninsured and underinsured people and the problematic situations around them.