By Briana Vannozzi
“I would be devastated. I would be devastated. I’m a senior, I’m on a fixed income,” said Oakland resident Kathleen Henkel.
Bergen County seniors like Henkel say they’ve got a lot on the line as an Obamacare replacement hangs in limbo. She and her neighbors worry certain provisions that help older adults could get cut, saying the rhetoric out of Washington isn’t helping.
“Besides being polarized, what I’m hearing is the Republicans are afraid to speak up,” said Fran Powell of Oakland.
Freshman Congressman Josh Gottheimer held the gathering at the Oakland Senior Citizen Center, speaking about the potential impact of privatizing Medicare and retirement security in the wake of a repeal.
“So if the Affordable Care Act goes away completely, without a solution in place, if we just throw it out like some are talking about, 211,881 New Jersey seniors would lose extra help they now have for their prescription drug costs,” Gottheimer said.
By 2020, the Affordable Care Act planned to close what’s known as the doughnut hole. That’s when Medicare would stop paying part of the cost for drugs, leaving higher out-of-pocket costs for beneficiaries. The ACA expanded Medicare’s prescription drug benefit, and it’s one of the line items House Republicans are eyeing to toss.
Baby boomers took equal interest in today’s forum. As the congressman noted, 1.3 million seniors rely on Medicare for their health care, but in the next three years another 2 million will be entering the program.
How confident is Ringwood resident William O’Hearn in the congressional leaders getting a plan in place before this is repealed?
“I’m concerned. I think it’s open ended right now in terms of where it’s going to go. We had the president make a lot of commitments in terms of not touching Social Security, not messing with Medicaid that everyone will be covered in his revision to the ACA, but right now all we have is words,” he said.
There’s no formal plan proposed, but a number of ideas are being floated. If a replacement doesn’t go through, the New Jersey Hospital Association says more than 200,000 New Jersey residents could lose their tax subsidies to purchase insurance.
“It would have a dramatic impact upon the health care industry. First of all, we would see our the charity care — which is the free care we provide to those people with out insurance in the state of New Jersey — we would see that number spike again to pre-ACA levels,” said Betsy Ryan, the association’s president and CEO.
“I think we’re certainly under pressure to try and make it right. What you saw, I think from where everything started, when we came back into session, to where we are now — which I am really happy with — which is hold on a second, let’s not ram something through that is not a replacement. If you are going to actually try to fix this, which is what I have always said, we need to fix this and make it better, then you have to make it better. You can’t just throw it out,” Gottheimer said.
He’ll head back to Washington with hopes more lawmakers are feeling the same.