FAIR LAWN, N.J. – Today, Congressman Josh Gottheimer joined AARP NJ and nearly 200 members of the public for a Protect Medicare Forum and discussion of health care reform and retirement security in New Jersey. At the forum, Gottheimer and representatives of the AARP spoke about bipartisan initiatives to strengthen Medicare and how to save seniors money on healthcare costs before taking questions from the audience on a variety of topics.
The AARP Forum was hosted and moderated by Dave Mollen, President AARP New Jersey, and Brian McGuire, Associate State Director AARP New Jersey.
“Our nation made an intergenerational promise to our seniors; I take that promise and that obligation very seriously,” said Congressman Gottheimer (NJ-5). “It’s obvious to me that New Jersey seniors and families are worried about their retirement security, and there’s a lot of uncertainty and fear being created in D.C. by the bill-writing taking place behind closed doors. We need to sound the alarm on those who are trying to gut the retirement security and health care that seniors and their families depend on.”
“AARP members got to engage their representative on issues that matter to them — like making sure Medicare continues to provide guaranteed, affordable health care benefits and getting drug and health care costs under control for people of all ages. Congressman Gottheimer understands the need for commonsense, bipartisan solutions to the issues our members are concerned about,” said AARP New Jersey President Dave Mollen.
Below: Congressman Josh Gottheimer (NJ-5) discusses healthcare with nearly 200 New Jersey residents.
Below: Congressman Gottheimer’s remarks opening the AARP Forum.
Thank you Brian and Dave and AARP New Jersey for holding this important discussion on health care.
Dr. Ethel Andrus created the AARP in 1958 to help provide retired school teachers with better access to health insurance. And today, more than 50 years after Lyndon Johnson signed Medicare into law, AARP is still fighting to protect this critical program.
So, I want to welcome the AARP to Fair Lawn and Fair Lawn’s beautiful community center. Fair Lawn offers a Senior Center that is open seven days a week. It offers exercise and activities for the entire senior community. That is a rarity in this area. Fair Lawn’s mini bus service makes sure we take care of our seniors.
As you know well, we face serious challenges as a community, state, and country. Our roads and bridges are crumbling – ninth worst roads in the country and a third of our bridges are considered unsafe.
Here in New Jersey, our taxes, at all levels, are far too high – we only get back thirty-three cents for every dollar we send to Washington; West Virginia gets $4.33 cents. Because of all of this, we are losing businesses and jobs — we are forty-ninth or fiftieth in business-friendly states in most surveys. And our young people are leaving after school and, as you know, too many seniors are moving away because our cost of living, starting with those property taxes, are simply too high, especially if you’re on a fixed income.
In short, we have work to do. But, I believe that if we can get there. I love raising my five and eight year old here – we have great schools, safe, beautiful communities, and the best pizza.
As many of you know, I’m new to Washington; you all sent me there about six months ago. I’m trying to bring the same perspective I brought to the business world – common sense problem solving and a willingness to work with anyone, Democrat or Republican, to get things done to help us here in New Jersey’s Fifth Congressional District.
My second or third week on the job, I was elected to be the Co-chair of the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus, a group of Republicans and Democrats who are working to find common ground on issues like cutting taxes and fixing our crumbling roads and bridges.
In March, our group proudly helped avoid a costly and damaging government shutdown by coming out early in favor of a plan to keep the lights on in the government without adding a bunch of partisan provisions to the legislation. We recently met with House Speaker Paul Ryan and Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi to discuss ways we can work together to cut taxes, fix our roads and rails, and get our fiscal house in order.
Today, I’d like to spend time talking about the significant fight that we are in literally right now to protect programs like Medicare and get premiums and drug costs under control.
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 health care in our golden years.
And a promise made ought to be kept. I take that obligation seriously.
Let’s start with Medicare.
First, Medicare. Signed into law in 1965 in Independence, Missouri, President Johnson said Medicare put this “nation right where it needs to be. To be right.”
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. That’s just right.
We can’t go back to a time when an illness or injury meant bankruptcy or death for retirees.
But some want to go back on their word and privatize or cut Medicare, risking higher costs for nearly 60 million Americans. Not on my watch. My mom would never let me come home to the dinner table again.
By handing out coupons for coverage, these extreme politicians would increase out of pocket costs for seniors by an estimated $6,000 annually.
For many on a fixed income, that additional $6,000 bill each year would hit their budget hard, forcing some 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’ll stand up to anyone who tries to ram through an extreme agenda on the backs of seniors.
Because here’s what could happen to seniors here in New Jersey.
1.3 million New Jersey seniors rely on Medicare for their healthcare. And another 1.9 million people in our state 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, it’s a third of our population that could be left out in the cold if these politicians get their way.
A 2012 study found that nearly 60 percent of all Medicare recipients would be forced to pay higher premiums if the program is privatized.
Second, I know that the ACA is far from perfect, and I am looking for common-sense fixes. That is why I am cosponsoring a bill that would block potential fast-track cuts to Medicare contained in that law, because Medicare is too important to be left in the hands of Administration officials who have long-supported harmful policies that shift costs to seniors. This bipartisan bill will help improve the ACA for seniors.
This is how Congress should work. By forging bipartisan solutions, not by forcing through a healthcare repeal before Members of Congress and the public have the chance to read it.
I strongly opposed the reckless repeal bill that passed the House, and that is now before the Senate. Three of the five Republicans in our congressional delegation voted against it. Why? It’s a gut job. Not a fix.
The bill I voted against would have increased costs for the State of New Jersey in a major way, requiring a new state tax of $4,000 a family.
It would also make it impossible for people with pre-existing conditions to get health care coverage because of where they live. And when we talk about pre-existing conditions, let’s be clear, almost every person in this room has a loved one that has had cancer, diabetes, or arthritis. If you’ve been pregnant, had a child by C-section, survived domestic violence or sexual assault, insurance companies could decline you coverage before the ACA and charge you more for coverage under the AHCA.
And we’ll all lose if essential health benefits are eliminated so insurance companies will no longer cover services like mental health and substance abuse treatment, prescription drugs, and maternity care.
Speaking of prescription drugs, although prices are still too high, seniors in New Jersey are saving big on their medicine under the ACA because what’s known as the Medicare “Donut Hole” is closing. 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 annually—an average of $2,000 per senior.
Closing the Donut hole has already made a real difference in pocketbooks of seniors here in New Jersey and throughout the country. And the savings will continue to grow as we get closer to 2020, when the hole will be entirely closed.
But if we repeal the ACA without a plan to replace it, those costs would jump right back up.
That’s why, earlier this year before the ACA repeal bill was introduced, I wrote to Congressional leadership, urging them not to reopen this donut hole. Seniors would be crushed by additional drug costs and experience extreme economic hardship.
Instead, I am working on common-sense solutions to make prescription drugs more affordable. I am a proud co-sponsor of the bipartisan “Lower Drug Costs through Competition Act,” which will incentivize the development of generic drugs to boost competition and bring down costs.
We need to crack down on price-gouging on lifesaving medication like EpiPen, and this bill would use the power of the free market to put a stop to it. I am happy to report that this bill is moving swiftly through Congress and recently passed out of the Energy and Commerce Committee.
But drug costs that are not all that’s at stake in this process.
The misguided repeal bill that recently passed the House includes a “Senior Tax” that would make Americans who are over 50 years old pay 5 times more than younger people–or even more–for their health care premiums, potentially bankrupting many seniors by the time they’re even eligible for Medicare.
In fact, the Congressional Budget Office found that a 64-year-old earning $25,000 a year would see his or her annual premiums go up by $13,600.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t know many 64-year-olds on fixed incomes who can afford $13,600 in new health care costs each year.
A few weeks ago, I received a letter from a woman in Franklin who wrote, “I as well as most of my community are senior citizens living month to month on a small Social Security check. Some among us are very ill and have a lot of medical bills. One across the street and one beside me have very bad diabetes. I myself have several health problems and take a lot of medicine every day in order to get out of bed and function. I live alone so without this medicine I would die.”
I think of all the people like this woman who would be adversely impacted by this health care plan and know I must keep speaking out on their behalf.
Finally, this bill would also radically change Medicaid, a vital lifeline that millions of seniors and people with disabilities rely on for access to long-term care.
200,000 Medicare beneficiaries in our state depend on Medicaid for services not covered by Medicare, like long term care.
In fact, 3 out of 5 New Jersey long-term care residents in nursing homes are covered by Medicaid.
This bill could lead to seniors being thrown out of their nursing homes.
We need to sound the alarm about this effort to gut the retirement security that seniors and their families depend on.
At the end of the day, 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.
For the rest of the program time here, I’d like to take your questions, talk to you about your concerns and see what my team and I can do for you.