Remarks Speaking out Against "Age Tax" and Skyrocketing Rx Drug Costs

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River Vale, N.J. , March 13, 2017 | comments
It’s good to be here at Jewish Home Assisted Living. The Jewish Home Family has been serving our region for more than 100 years, providing quality services and health care to so many people in the community. This facility opened ten years ago and it’s the only Kosher assisted living facility in the area. It’s centers like this one that not only act as a place for family and friendship, but also medical care.

There’s a lot of talk in Washington these days, as you know, about reforming our health care system. And I agree that there’s a lot we need to fix about the health care industry here in the United States. We should repeal the Cadillac Tax and Medical Device Tax and work to lower costs while maintaining quality.

And, as I’ve repeatedly said, I will work with anyone, regardless of political party, who has ideas to improve health care.

But one aspect of reforming the Affordable Care Act that alarms me greatly is the impact it would have on seniors and on the retirement security of families of all ages.

Through the Affordable Care Act, the Medicare Part D Donut Hole is closing—and will be fully closed by 2020. That means lower drug costs for seniors. That’s a good thing.

And the ACA also extended the solvency of the Medicare Trust Fund by 12 years—to at least 2029—protecting retirement security for future generations.

As you all know, more than half a century ago, our nation made an intergenerational promise to our seniors--a promise that we will have access to the health care we need in our golden years.

I take that promise and that obligation very seriously. Our seniors pay into Medicare through a lifetime of hard work and deserve the security of knowing they will be able to access healthcare when they need to.

We can’t go back to a time when an illness or injury meant bankruptcy or death for retirees.

But some people—led by the Tea Party in Washington—want to go back on their word and privatize Medicare, risking higher costs for nearly 60 million Americans. Not on my watch. My mom would never let me home to the dinner table again.

By handing out coupons for coverage, the Tea Party would be increasing out of pocket costs for seniors by an estimated $6,000 annually. For many on a fixed income, that additional $6,000 in out of pocket costs each year would cause a big problem for their budgets, forcing them to choose between a meal and their medicine. Some wouldn’t be able to afford health care at all.

I won’t allow that bond to be broken. I will stand up to the Tea Party and the Alt-right when they try to ram through their extremist agenda on the backs of seniors.

Because here’s what this would mean for seniors here in New Jersey.

1.3 million New Jersey seniors rely on Medicare for their healthcare. And another 1.9 million people here in New Jersey are scheduled to enter the program in the next 15 years. That’s 3.2 million people over the age of 50 who have paid into Medicare through a lifetime of hard work. To put it another way, that’s about a third of our population who could be left in the cold.

By privatizing Medicare, seniors would lose the fundamental guarantee of insurance coverage, and out of pocket costs would skyrocket for some. Because if the value of the voucher you receive turns out to be insufficient to cover your care, you’re out of luck. Your out of pocket costs will be higher-and that’s on a fixed income.

A 2012 study found that nearly 60% of all Medicare recipients would be forced to pay higher premiums if the program is privatized.

And the bill currently being considered by the House of Representatives shortens the solvency of the Medicare Trust Fund by 3 years, putting this sacred promise on the chopping block.

One in five Medicare enrollees fell into the donut hole gap in 2009, before the Affordable Care Act went into effect, costing them big in prescription drug costs. They are now saving $15 billion a year

So if the ACA law goes away, 211,881 New Jersey seniors would lose extra help they now have to buy prescription drugs. Closing the Part D Donut hole has already made a real difference in pocketbooks of seniors across New Jersey. And the savings will continue to grow as we get closer to 2020 when the hole will be entirely closed.

But should the ACA be repealed without a plan to replace it, those costs will jump right back up. According to one study by the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the average senior would lose almost $2,000 in savings each year.

Last week, I sent a letter to Congressional leadership, telling them not to reopen this donut hole work on health care reform. Seniors would be crushed by additional drug costs and experience extreme economic hardship.

But it’s not just prescription drug costs that are at risk of increasing dramatically during this reform process.

The health care bill currently being considered in the House of Representatives includes a premium “age tax,” that would make older Americans pay 5 times more for their health care.

The AARP’s Public Policy Institute found that for a 64-year-old earning $25,000 a year, their annual premiums would go up by $7,000.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t know many 64 year olds on fixed incomes who can afford $7,000 in new health care costs each year.

And this bill would also radically change Medicaid, a needed lifeline that millions of seniors and people with disabilities rely on to be able to access long term care.

200,000 Medicare beneficiaries in our state rely on Medicaid for services not covered by Medicare, like long term care.

60% of Medicaid expenditures go to long term care for the elderly, blind, and disabled.

3 out of 5 nursing home residents in New Jersey are covered by Medicaid.

And if the Affordable Care Act gets repealed and New Jersey loses federal Medicaid funding, 500,000 Jersey residents would lose their coverage.

It was even reported that under this plan, the “biggest losers” would be older Americans who live in high-cost areas, like here in northern New Jersey.

So, that’s why I’m here today. We need to sound the alarm on those in the Tea Party who are trying to blow up a system that seniors depend on.

My approach to governing is about solving problems--not creating unnecessary chaos and hardship for older Americans.

As I’ve long said, I will work with anyone, regardless of political party, to improve health care affordability and accessibility for seniors and everyone else.

But, that takes actually working together. And, so far, the Republicans in Congress haven’t reached out to see how we can make the ACA better, because it certainly needs improvement. But, this bill, unfortunately, isn’t the answer.

So, in closing, I’d want to reiterate to the folks here today that my job is solving problems for you. Whether that’s solving problems like helping make sure we keep prescription drug costs down, protect Medicare from privatization and cuts or cutting through red tape to help you resolve an issue with the VA or Social Security Administration, I am here for you.

For the rest of the program time here, I’d like to come around and talk to you about your concerns and see what problems my team and I may be able to solve for you.

Thank you.

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