AARP president talks Idaho health care

The organization, known for advocacy of Social Security and Medicare, also sees opportunity in Medicaid.

adutton@idahostatesman.comFebruary 19, 2014 

Limited Competiton

A panel of witnesses are sworn in on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, July 23, 2013, prior to testifying before the Senate Judiciary subcommittee on Antitrust, Competition Policy and Consumer Rights hearing on "pay-for-delay" deals between pharmaceutical companies and their generic drug competitors, which critics say keep cheaper forms of medicine off the market. From left are, Robert G. Romasco, president of the American Association of Retired People; Diane Bieri, general counsel for the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America; Michael A. Carrier, law professor at Rutgers University; Jonathan M. Orszag, senior managing director for Compass Lexecon, LLC; Michael Russo, federal program director for the U.S. Public Interest Research Group; and Sumanth Addanki, senior vice president of NERA Economic Consulting.

J. SCOTT APPLEWHITE — The Associated Press

Over a weekend in December, AARP president Robert Romasco met with Idahoans at Boise’s Cottonwood Grille to talk about Medicaid expansion in Idaho, Social Security and other issues affecting AARP members.

The organization represents people 50 and older, claiming about 175,000 members in Idaho and 37 million nationally. It is among the most politically active organizations in the country, spending about $9.6 million on lobbying last year.

During his visit, people wanted answers about the Affordable Care Act, he says. They would tell him things they had heard about the law and its effect on Medicare and health care overall.

“Half the things they heard were not true,” he said. “We had to supply the facts. ... They’ve heard a lot of conflicting information.”

Romasco answered some questions from Business Insider about the law and its effects on Idaho seniors.

Q: What do you want Idaho seniors and business leaders to know about health care reform?

A: Many of our members want facts: How does this affect me and my family? The Affordable Care Act is a good thing for Medicare. Number 1, it closes the doughnut hole for prescription drugs. It has got more benefits. Preventive exams are now covered. Starting Jan. 1, [people] cannot be denied insurance.

Q: We recently had a hospital system stop taking one insurer’s Medicare Advantage plans. What are your thoughts on that?

A: Basically what’s happened is that, in response to the broader issue of health care costs, insurers are making decisions about who is in and out of their networks. In any individual state or county, there may be a situation where physician networks can’t come to agreement with an insurance company.

Q: How would your members be affected if Idaho expanded eligibility for Medicaid to poor working adults?

A: If you’re 50 to 65, there are a lot of workers in Idaho who are not as fortunate to be in a very strong benefit [and] employment situation. How many of those people are there in Idaho? How many of them are vulnerable? If you have a nice cushy job in Boise at corporate headquarters, maybe it’s not a problem. But Idaho is probably not any different than any other state I’ve been to. There are probably tens of thousands of people caught in this [gap between Medicaid eligibility and subsidized premiums through the exchange].

If you’re 55 years old, and you’re not working for one of the major companies in Idaho, maybe you don’t have benefits, maybe you’ve been laid off. Try to get insurance when you’re 58 years old. It’s not easy.

I think the stakes are pretty important. Idaho taxpayers are already paying federal [Medicaid expansion] taxes, so they should take advantage of the benefits.

Q: What are your priorities right now, with regard to health care?

A: We’re very concerned about Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. They are pillars of financial security.

We’ve been very clear that Social Security, if we do nothing [to change the program], the benefits will drop by 25 percent. We think that’s not an acceptable alternative.

Medicare, we believe there are responsible ways to address the impact on the budget. The problem isn’t Medicare, it’s health care costs. Health care costs need to be slowed down. We need to have a full-court press on that. If you cut benefits, the need doesn’t go away; you still have to go to the doctor and get that medicine, get that test.

On a broader scale, we have been very active in trying to make sure doctors get fair compensation.

Audrey Dutton: 377-6448, Twitter: @IDS_Audrey

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