The AARP in Ohio this week launched a campaign aimed at protecting Medicare in response to recent congressional proposals to revamp the program.
“Congressional proposals to change Medicare into a voucher system would dramatically increase health care costs and risks for both current and future retirees,” the organization said in a statement. “Over the next few weeks, AARP staff and volunteers will meet with members of Congress to underscore that this proposal would put 2,016,275 seniors’ benefits at risk and threaten the guarantee of benefits for 2,419,021 workers ages 50 to 64 who are currently paying into the system.”
State Director for AARP Ohio, Barbara Sykes, said that older Ohioans depend on Medicare for affordable health and that a voucher system would increase considerably the costs and risks for future retirees, potentially to the tune of thousands of out-of-pocket dollars.
According to new, detailed analyses released by the AARP Public Policy Institute, 21 percent of Ohioans are between the ages of 50 and 64 today and will transition into Medicare over the next 15 years.
The report states that, in 2015, Medicare provided coverage for about 17 percent of the state’s population.
About 83 percent of the beneficiaries in Ohio were over the age of 65 and 17 percent were younger people with disabilities under the age of 65.
A federal report states that most people who enroll in traditional Medicare will pay higher out-of-pocket costs in a so-called “premium support system.”
Under the proposed system, the federal government would replace Medicare beneficiaries’ guaranteed benefits package with a fixed dollar amount or “defined contribution” that beneficiaries would then apply toward their health care coverage.
Aside from skyrocketing costs, the AARP is also concerned with a premium support system’s assumption that beneficiaries are willing and able to make complex health care coverage decisions.
The AARP’s analysis states that many Medicare beneficiaries in Ohio are in poor health and already pay “substantial out-of-pocket costs and would have difficulty absorbing higher health care costs that would likely accompany a premium support system.”
“The burden of chronic disease is high in Ohio,” the report states, noting that about 30 percent of Medicare beneficiaries in the state had two or three chronic health conditions in 2014.
Eight percent of Ohioans ages 65 and older lived below the federal poverty level in 2015.
Under a premium support system, the AARP’s report notes that low-income people would be forced to leave Medicare and enroll in less expensive plans with limited benefits and restrictive provider networks.
In a letter recently sent to Congress, AARP CEO Jo Ann Jenkins said, “The average senior, with an annual income of under $25,000 and already spending one out of every six dollars on health care, counts on Social Security for the majority of their income and on Medicare for access to affordable health coverage.
“We will continue to oppose changes to current law that cut benefits, increase costs or reduce the ability of these critical programs to deliver on their benefit promises.”
Jenkins strongly urged the legislature to improve Medicare’s low-income programs by raising asset limits “that perversely penalize people who did the right thing by saving a small nest egg for retirement as well as ensuring assignment to prescription drug plans that meet their needs.”
The CEO also encouraged Congress to maintain existing insurance market rules that prohibit increasing rates based on age or pre-existing conditions.
“Medicare is the only safety net for millions of children with disabilities, adults and seniors in need of critical long-term services and supports,” Jenkins wrote. “We urge you to keep this vital safety net in place.
“As Congress considers changes to Medicaid, we urge that states be afforded enhanced flexibility to access funding for generally more cost-effective home and community-based services in the same way they can access nursing home funding.”
In Ohio and other states, the AARP has launched television and digital advertising in support of its campaign, reminding viewers of President Donald Trump’s campaign promise to “protect and save Social Security and Medicare.”
A new website for the campaign also launched this week: aarp.org/protectmedicare.