Over a weekend in December, AARP president Robert Romasco met with Idahoans at Boises 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. ... Theyve 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 insurers Medicare Advantage plans. What are your thoughts on that?
A: Basically whats 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 cant 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 youre 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 its not a problem. But Idaho is probably not any different than any other state Ive been to. There are probably tens of thousands of people caught in this [gap between Medicaid eligibility and subsidized premiums through the exchange].
If youre 55 years old, and youre not working for one of the major companies in Idaho, maybe you dont have benefits, maybe youve been laid off. Try to get insurance when youre 58 years old. Its 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: Were very concerned about Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. They are pillars of financial security.
Weve been very clear that Social Security, if we do nothing [to change the program], the benefits will drop by 25 percent. We think thats not an acceptable alternative.
Medicare, we believe there are responsible ways to address the impact on the budget. The problem isnt Medicare, its 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 doesnt 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