DeGette: Trumpcare would hurt seniors and others in Colorado: Here’s how

Author: Diana DeGette - April 11, 2017 - Updated: August 1, 2018

U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette
U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette

Trumpcare was defeated and the Affordable Care Act saved from repeal last month thanks in large part to the American public. They spoke out passionately on behalf of the ACA in phone calls and emails to their members of Congress. They raised their voices at events like the community forum in Denver where 1,000 of my constituents showed up, the rally that I held where 500 people attended and the listening session where men and women of all ages told their stories about how the ACA has changed their lives for the better.

We need to keep that passion alive and be on the alert for further efforts to reverse the progress that has been made under the ACA, especially with respect to how it has helped seniors. The White House and congressional Republicans continue to talk about repealing and replacing the ACA with a bill that looks a lot like the Trumpcare legislation that failed in March.

Let’s be clear about what this would mean: Under that bill, by the year 2020, total out-of-pocket costs for Coloradans would increase by an average of $2,256 for individuals and $3,969 for families. By 2026, those costs would rise $3,561 for individuals and $6,777 for families.

And Trumpcare hits those with low or fixed incomes especially hard: It slashes the support offered by the ACA’s premium tax credits by nearly half. For example, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO), a 64 year-old whose income is $26,500, which is 175 percent of the Federal Poverty Level, pays $1,700 out of her own pocket on premiums under current law. Under Trumpcare, that same woman would pay $14,600 in premiums. Forcing people to pay this much is an unworkable solution for the middle class and people with limited incomes.

The CBO predicts that premiums are going to get a lot more expensive for adults age 50 to 64, since Trumpcare lets insurance companies charge them much higher premiums than what’s allowed under current law. This age tax will make premiums so unaffordable that many people will be forced off their health insurance. A typical senior seeking coverage on the exchanges has a $25,000 annual income. For these people, AARP estimates that Trumpcare would increase premiums by as much as $3,600 for a 55 year-old and $7,000 for a 64-year-old.

Trumpcare would also shift $370 billion in federal costs for Medicaid to the states, which would effectively phase out the ACA’s Medicaid expansion. In our state, this would mean losing $340 million in federal funding in 2020 and $14 billion over the following 10 years, according to the Colorado Health Institute (CHI), which notes that state lawmakers “would face the option of cutting off hundreds of thousands of people from Medicaid or making historic cuts to the state budget to pay for them.”

And it would cap federal funding for virtually everyone on Medicaid starting in 2020. CHI estimates that by 2026, Colorado would receive $1 billion less in federal Medicaid funding per year due to this cap, and $6 billion less by the year 2030 — once again, forcing painful choices.

Furthermore, the changes that Trumpcare seeks to make to Medicaid itself would make it harder for seniors and people with disabilities to get long-term care through home- and community-based services, and it would threaten the future of nursing homes that depend in large part on federal support.

A scheme that puts the cost of coverage out of reach for some of society’s most vulnerable members is not health care.

I’ve been a longtime proponent of making bipartisan improvements to the Affordable Care Act, including at every hearing that we’ve had in my committee — the Energy and Commerce Committee — where I’ve said if Republicans would give up this idea of repealing the ACA and work with Democrats to improve it, we could make a lot of progress.

Even in these hyper-partisan times, this is not unprecedented. I was the chief Democratic author of the 21st Century Cures Act along with Republican Congressman Fred Upton of Michigan. This was a very large bill that restructured the way we do biomedical research in this country, providing avenues for cures for some of the toughest diseases that face us, including Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, cancer, diabetes and many more. It became law in December.

So in a similar spirit, Democrats and Republicans can and should work together on policy solutions for our health care system. We need to figure out the issues and principles on which we agree, and how to achieve them, including bringing down prescription drug prices and reducing premiums, deductibles and out-of-pocket costs.

Americans have been so persuasive and persistent about the ACA because they want to see Congress work together to truly make their insurance more affordable and to make health care more available to them. And that’s why we should seize this moment in a bipartisan way and do what’s best for Coloradans and all Americans.

Diana DeGette

Diana DeGette

Diana DeGette, a Denver Democrat, represents Colorado’s First District in Congress. She is chief deputy whip and a senior member of the Energy and Commerce Committee, which has jurisdiction over health care matters.