Guest Column: Much at stake for older Minnesotans in debate

Published 9:44 am Thursday, February 16, 2017

Guest Column by Will Phillips

Will Phillips is the director of AARP Minnesota.

The new political year has started with a bang and many of us have been left a bit dizzy wondering just where everything stands. One issue that Congress has left especially fuzzy is health care.

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What’s in, what’s out and what comes next is anyone’s guess, but there are three health care provisions that should be top of mind for anyone near or over the age of 50.  They deal with the future of Medicare, the cost of health insurance and support for Minnesota’s Medicaid program.

Will Phillips

Will Phillips

The biggest thing Minnesota voters need to be aware of is the plan of Congressional leaders to fundamentally change Medicare by shifting the costs away from insurance companies and onto seniors. If this sounds familiar, it’s because it is. This is the same unpopular Medicare voucher plan that gives seniors a limited amount of money to pay for escalating Medicare premiums, leaving them to make up the difference.

Nearly 900,000 Minnesotans are currently enrolled in Medicare, and in the next 15 years an additional 1.1 million will become eligible. If Congress follows through with their efforts to end Medicare as we know it, all of these people could pay significantly more for their health care.

With the debate over the future of the Affordable Care Act underway, several policy proposals have been introduced to change the law. One is particularly bad for older Minnesotans. A key part of the ACA is a limit on “age rating,” which controls the amount of money that insurers can charge an older individual based on their age alone. Current law sets that limit at three times the amount of a younger individual. Early plans to replace ACA have included increasing that limit to five times the amount of younger people, which will allow insurance companies to charge Minnesotans in their 50s and 60s even more.

Even with the current three-to-one rating, many older Minnesotans have seen their premiums skyrocket. If Congress raises it to five to one, premiums for people between 50 and 64 years of age could increase by an average of $3,000 a year.

The third bad health care idea floating around Congress is a plan to transform Medicaid into a block grant program.  Supporters say such a change will return control of the program to the states. In reality block grants result in overwhelming cost-shifts to states who are unable to shoulder the costs of care without sufficient federal support.  With a growing senior population, Minnesota already spends a great deal of money on Medicaid. Block grants would mean that our state would be forced to spend hundreds of millions more or discontinue health care and long term care to thousands of families, people living with disabilities and seniors living in nursing homes. Nationwide, 65 percent of nursing home residents rely on Medicaid.

The debate over health care is just starting and Minnesota’s Congressional delegation needs to hear from their constituents. Over the upcoming President’s Day Congressional recess, AARP volunteers and members will be attending town hall forums across the state to urge our Congressional leaders to say no to the big insurance companies and stand up for the millions of Minnesotans who need affordable health care.

If you share our opposition to higher health care costs for older Minnesotans, please contact your members of Congress to make sure your voice is heard.