Report: Health Bills Show Some Price Gaps

USA Today –

Oct. 12: Washington – Older Americans who buy health insurance on their own could pay nearly 50% more in premiums under the Senate Finance Committee bill compared with other versions pending in Congress, an independent study says.

Americans ages 55 to 64 could be charged an average of $8,650 a year for insurance under the Finance Committee bill compared with $5,930 under a separate bill approved in July by the Senate health committee, according to a report by the Urban Institute and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

The discrepancy would not affect people who get insurance from Medicare or through work. It would apply to older Americans who buy coverage in the individual market or who are currently uninsured about 6 million people between 55 and 64, Kaiser Family Foundation data show.

The Finance Committee is scheduled to vote Tuesday on its bill, which would cost $829 billion over 10 years and would cover 29 million uninsured Americans. The bill would require nearly everyone to buy a health insurance policy.

Determining how much insurance companies can consider age when setting premium prices could become a sticking point if the committee passes the bill. Democratic leaders will then have to merge the finance version with the health committee’s bill, which is more generous to older people.

David Sloane, the AARP’s chief lobbyist, asks, “Why is it more acceptable to discriminate against older people?” The AARP was formerly known as the American Association of Retired Persons.

Families with two people ages 45 to 64 could be charged an average of $11,939 under the finance bill compared with $9,662 under other versions of the bill, according to the report.

Younger Americans, on the other hand, could pay less. The report found that single adults ages 18 to 24 would pay $2,163 a year on average under the finance bill compared with $2,965 under legislation approved in July by the Senate health committee and bills pending in the House.

“This intergenerational issue is where the tension comes in,” said Linda Blumberg, senior fellow at the Urban Institute and lead author of the study.

In a July letter, the industry trade group America’s Health Insurance Plans asked Congress to allow them to charge older Americans five times more than younger ones — which the Urban Institute study says is close to the current industry practice. The finance bill would let insurers charge older adults four times more while the health committee and House versions of the bill set a 2-1 ratio, which is favored by the AARP.

Representatives for the AARP and the insurance industry said they will be closely watching the merging process. Robert Zirkelbach, a spokesman for America’s Health Insurance Plans, said individuals younger than 35, who are likely to use fewer health care services, could wind up subsidizing coverage for others if lawmakers favor older people.

Blumberg said because younger Americans earn less on average, they would receive larger federal subsidies to offset the premiums. Individuals earning between $32,490 and $43,320, for instance, would get subsidies to cover premiums that exceed 12% of their income.

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