Testimony of Judith Stein In Opposition to the AHCA

Senator Blumenthal, thank you for holding this hearing. I am Judith Stein, founder and Executive Director of the Center for Medicare Advocacy. The Center is a national non-profit law organization headquartered in Washington, DC and Connecticut, with additional attorneys in MA, NJ, and CA. Our mission is to advance comprehensive Medicare and access to quality health coverage and care for older and disabled people.

We are grateful to you for giving the public an opportunity to learn, and be heard, about the momentous American Health Care Act (AHCA) being considered in the Senate.

I have been doing this work since 1977, at the Center for Medicare Advocacy since 1986, before that at CT Legal Services.  Never in those 40 years have I witnessed the kind of secrecy, and determination to take away health coverage (or any other benefit), like we are witnessing today.

In May, the House of Representatives passed the American Health Care Act.  The AHCA bill is so severe that the President is calling it “mean,” and says the Senate should make it more “generous” and “kind.” (CNN Politics, 6/14/2017)

The House bill is certainly not kind or generous. it would roll back protections in the Affordable Care Act (ACA), leave 23 million people uninsured, significantly increase health care costs, particularly for older adults age 50-64, undermine Medicare, and gut Medicaid.

Despite the wide-ranging impact of health care on families and the country – constituting roughly one-sixth of the economy – a handful of Senators are privately developing a bill behind closed doors, with no hearings or opportunity for input.  Based on information that has trickled out, the Senate bill is not likely to be more “kind” than the House AHCA. Indeed, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, the Senate bill would have virtually the same overall harmful impact as the House Bill.”

The Senate, we hear, is poised to pass a bill that will dramatically restructure Medicaid, with harsh cuts and caps on payments. This will be devastating for our most vulnerable older and disabled people, children, and tens of millions of families.  As noted in a recent Op-Ed in the New York Times,

“… what has been largely missing from public discussion is the radical implications that such cuts would have for older and disabled Americans. … nearly two-thirds of [Medicaid] spending is focused on older and disabled adults – primarily through spending on long-term care services such as nursing homes.  (“Your Probably Going to Need Medicaid,” 6/13/2017)

The Times Op-Ed warned that the anticipated Medicaid cuts would shift costs to families as well as to State and other federal programs, including Medicare. Yet AHCA also reduces the long-term solvency of Medicare by cutting the Medicare payroll tax for high-wage earners. The authors concluded, “draconian cuts to Medicaid affect all our families. They are a direct attack on our elderly, our disabled and our dignity.”

We need open hearings, debate, opportunities for amendments, and a CBO score; the Senate should not vote until these occur. In the end, we need a health care bill that improves the Affordable Care Act, leaves Medicare and Medicaid stronger, and provides quality health coverage and care for all Americans.

Sadly, the American Health Care Act is not a health care bill at all. Thank you for opposing it. I urge your colleagues to do the same – and to demand the Senate return to providing an open and considered legislative process.

_________________________

Judith Stein
Executive Director/Attorney
June 19, 2017