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CO seniors work to defeat healthcare repeal

By James Mejía

Once a Donald Trump central campaign promise, the repeal and replacement of Obamacare has resulted in multiple failed attempts to pass new healthcare legislation rapidly becoming known as Trumpcare. When at least five Republican lawmakers were willing to vote against new healthcare legislation, the White House knew the measure was dead. Now, GOP legislators are said to be concentrating on withholding support for Obamacare, allowing it to fail, and hoping for victory in at least one aspect of the campaign promise – repeal.

In a June speech to employees at the Department of Health and Human Services, U.S. Vice President, Mike Pence said we are witnessing, “The collapse of the American Health Care Act,” known as Obamacare and that healthcare reform is, “…the North Star of our administration. President Trump will hold to his promise and we will repeal and replace Obamacare. The American people know that Obamacare has failed.”

Before final consideration last week, many health and political groups came out against Trumpcare, including numerous governors who met with Vice President Mike Pence in an acrimonious meeting meant to try to convince them of the bill’s virtues.

The American Medical Association, American Hospital Association, and the American Cancer Society have all spoken out strongly against the Republican proposed changes to healthcare. No opponents were more vociferous than senior groups, with the American Association of Retired People or AARP, leading the fight.

Their biggest issues with the legislation include deep cuts to Medicaid, on which many seniors rely, as well as what they call an “age tax” or having to pay five times more for health insurance than younger residents. The Congressional Budget Office has given the most recent iteration of the bill a damaging review showing that over the next ten years, 15 million residents would lose Medicaid coverage.

From Democratic Senator, Michael Bennet’s impassioned speech on the Senate floor in mid-July, it was clear he was a ‘no’ vote on any new healthcare legislation. “This terrible bill that we are considering… that virtually no one in my state supports or has asked for is what we’ve got in front of us.“ Bennet continued, “Slipped in between that tax cut and that 25 cut to Medicaid, which is paying for that tax cut for the wealthiest Americans, is what my colleague, Rand Paul, a Republican from Kentucky, has described accurately as Obamacare Light... and if you hate Obamacare, you will hate Obamacare Light.” With the state’s senior Senator on their side, the AARP has focused their lobbying efforts on Colorado’s junior Senator, Cory Gardner, who played a part in crafting the new bill.

Even after the most recent Trumpcare failure, Gardner was coy as to whether he supported the bill and the subsequent ‘repeal only’ movement. Even though Gardner had voted several times to repeal Obamacare as both a Congressman and Senator, he has since been quoted as saying it might not be the best idea any more.

Meanwhile, AARP has kept up the pressure. According to AARP Colorado spokesperson, Angela Cortéz, “The most recent thing we have done is delivered petitions to Senator Gardner’s office.” Over twenty AARP members paired in threes put over 5,200 signatures on Gardner’s desk, urging him to vote no on repealing Obamacare. The Colorado group was not granted an audience with Gardner himself, instead speaking with congressional aides and telling their stories of health problems that would be worse under Trump’s health care plan.

One Colorado senior is featured on the AARP Colorado Facebook page, telling her story in Gardner’s office and holding a sign saying, ‘Healthcare is a Right, Not a Business.’ Joining the delegation was Colorado senior, Ruth Sánchez,

Sánchez helps lead El Comité, a group of seniors that represents the Latino senior policy perspective for AARP Colorado. Besides the detrimental effect on seniors, Sánchez is fighting the healthcare proposal because, “It’s going to hurt veterans. At the local GI Forum alone, there are 40 vets that could lose Medicaid and their health insurance.” Sánchez worries about the effect on Latinos in general, “There are a lot of people on Medicare who didn’t have big pensions. They are living on Social Security alone and raising the Medicare premium would hurt them.” That’s why Sánchez participated in the AARP state letter writing party, sending missives to Colorado’s legislators as well as letters to the editor at newspapers large and small.

Sánchez penned a letter entitled, ‘America! Wake Up!’ which was printed in the June 28th edition of La Voz newspaper. “This new legislation would not only increase costs, but weaken the 751,000 medicare recipients in the state of Colorado, and given the fact of an aging population, this number is sure to grow!” Sánchez writes in her letter. “I’m outraged that my health care is being talked about behind closed doors. Americans deserve an open debate, one that insures quality health costs and benefits. The AHCA also includes an ‘age tax’ – a tax on the cost of healthcare for everyone 50-64 years old. What an outrage!”

For the AARP, the fight is long from over, even with the recent failure to pass legislation by Trump and Majority Leader of the Senate, Mitch McConnell. AARP Colorado spokesperson Cortéz states, “The AARP has supported the Affordable Health Care Act. It has certain kinks to address and we are willing to look at fixing some problems in the healthcare system, but we have never supported what has been proposed by the current Congress. We want to ensure that our members and older adults have access to Medicaid, are not penalized for pre-existing conditions, and don’t pay an age tax. We will continue to fight.”

McConnell’s new plan to repeal now and submit a new plan later faces an uphill climb. At least five Republican or Independent Senators oppose the current Trump proposal. Arizona Senator, John McCain, urged his party to, “… heed the recommendations of our nation’s governors so that we can produce a bill that finally provides Americans with access to quality and affordable health care.”





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