Florida could be “ground zero” for Republican health plan’s effects, AARP says

Older Floridians with health insurance through the Affordable Care Act will pay higher premiums under the Republican replacement proposal, called the American Health Care Act, than they do now under the current law also known as Obamacare, according to an analysis released Thursday by AARP.

The AARP analysis found that an estimated 450,000 Floridians between 50 and 64 would face higher premiums under the AHCA — more than any other state.

With the nation’s highest enrollment in ACA plans at 1.7 million sign ups for 2017, and a large number of older residents statewide who receive financial aid to afford their Obamacare coverage, Florida may be “ground zero” for the AHCA’s impacts, said Jeff Johnson, state director for AARP Florida.

“We’ve been struck,” Johnson said Thursday, “by how the healthcare plan would affect Floridians in an outsized way.”

In 2016, an estimated 1.5 million Floridians had coverage through the Affordable Care Act exchange at healthcare.gov — with more than 93 percent receiving financial aid from the government to make their premiums more affordable.

AARP’s analysis focused on two factors in the Republican proposal that are likely to disproportionately affect older Floridians: allowing insurance companies to charge their oldest member up to five times as much as their youngest members and a change in the financial aid the government provides to help people afford their coverage.

The ACA uses a sliding scale based on income and the price of a standard plan to ensure that eligible Americans never pay more than 9.5 percent of their annual income on health insurance premiums.

But the AHCA proposes flat tax credits based on age and income. Under the plan, only individuals earning less than $75,000 a year (or $150,000 annually for a family) will qualify for a tax credit, which would start at $2,000 a year for younger people and rise to a maximum of $4,000 a year for people 60 and older.

The difference in approaches could translate into average reductions in government financial aid for low-income and older Floridians ranging from about $850 a year to nearly $6,000 annually for a standard ACA plan, according to AARP.

Only one group of older ACA plan enrollees — those ages 50 to 55 with annual incomes of $45,000 — would see higher tax credits under the Republican plan, the AARP analysis found.

But another provision of the AHCA also will hit older Americans harder than the young: allowing insurers to charge their oldest members as much as five times the premiums charged to their youngest members. Under Obamacare, insurers are allowed to charge their oldest members three times the amount charged their youngest members.

We’ve been struck by how the healthcare plan would affect Floridians in an outsized way.

Jeff Johnson of AARP Florida on the American Health Care Act

For Chris MacLellan, 60, of Lake Worth, the impact of the Republican plan would be dramatic.

MacLellan participated in a media conference call with AARP Florida representatives on Thursday and said he started his own consulting business in large part because he could buy coverage under Obamacare.

“I’ve relied on the ACA the last couple of years for my insurance as, hopefully, my business takes off,” he said.

But with a heart condition and other medical needs, MacLellan said he is worried about whether he will able to afford his health insurance under the Republican proposal.

“Where’s all the money going to come from?” he asked. “I don’t know. It’s very scary.”

If the AHCA were signed into law today, AARP’s analysis found, reductions in tax credits for Americans between the ages of 50 and 64 would range from $830 a year to about $5,850 a year for a standard plan sold on the ACA exchange at healthcare.gov.

The hardest hit would be those who are older and with the lowest incomes, a considerable demographic in Florida, said David Bruns, an AARP spokesman.

“Florida, as everybody knows, has a pretty gray population and the highest percentage of people 65 and older of any state in the nation,” Bruns said. “We also have a very large 50 to 64 population who are too young for Medicare, and yet in that phase of life where they’re starting to encounter chronic diseases. They rely on healthcare coverage more than most.”