By Brenda Flanagan
“I am terrified. Terrified. I don’t know how I can financially afford to be sick, then,” said Jody Stewart.
Fifty-nine-year-old Stewart fears losing her Obamacare health care coverage. She says the proposed Republican replacement bill creates a worst case scenario for her: cut off from New Jersey Medicaid, but unable to afford higher insurance premiums. It’s estimated rates could increase fives times over for Americans between the ages of 50 and 64.
“The reason I canceled insurance years ago was it went up to $1,200 a month for my husband and I. We couldn’t afford that on a $17,000 a year income and pay our bills. So now with this change, I just cannot afford health care. I’ll have to go without,” Stewart said.
“The bill stinks. How more simple can I put it? The bill is going to hurt a lot of people. Wait until you see the numbers,” said Congressman Bill Pascrell.
For starters, lawmakers say, more than half a million Garden State residents signed up for ACA health coverage under Medicaid — and the state gets $3 billion extra in federal funding to pay for them. One in five New Jerseyans now get Medicaid coverage.
If the feds phase out funding, Director of State Health and Value Strategies at Woodrow Wilson School, Princeton University Heather Howard said, “Over time, either people will lose their Medicaid coverage and there’ll also be less money going into the health care safety net — hospitals, nursing homes and clinics — which, I think, is really going to jeopardize access to care. It risks people losing their health insurance and having to depend on the emergency rooms.”
Medicaid pays for 10 percent of rooms at Jewish Home Family’s assisted living facility in River Vale and subsidizes 45 percent of their nursing home beds. Along with lawmakers, health care providers will comb through today’s estimates from the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, which estimated 14 million would lose coverage by next year and 24 million by 2026, nationwide.
“It could be 300,000, it could be 400,000. We don’t know the number yet but I know a lot of people are going to be affected in New Jersey,” said Congressman Josh Gottheimer.
“Medicaid is that safety net. And it worries us. What happens to people when there is no safety net and what is that going to mean?” asked Carol Silver Elliott, president and CEO of Jewish Home Family.
“What we hear is that the medicine, people will have to take less. I have a friend in Florida who can’t afford a place like this and takes half of her medication,” said Helene Glanz, assisted living facility resident.
Congressman Tom MacArthur said he’s still evaluating the replacement plan’s impact but discussed it with Health Secretary Tom Price last week. Expecting bad news, the Trump administration has already discounted CBO estimates.
“I firmly believe that nobody will be worse off financially in the process we’re going through. Understanding they’ll have choices to select the kind of coverage they want,” Price said.
“They have no clue, certainly no clue as to how to go ahead and help people get affordable health insurance and guarantee they can get access to that insurance. It’s not accessible if it’s not affordable,” said Sen. Bob Menendez.
“I’m going to get hurt. I know it. I’m going to get hurt with this change,” Stewart said.
Menendez said he knows at least five Republican colleagues who won’t vote for the current bill. In the House, a battle rages on both sides of the aisle.