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Save your breath on new health care plan

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.), center,

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.), center, holds up a copy of the American Health Care Act during a news conference. Credit: Getty Images

When leaders in the House of Representatives failed to muster enough votes last month to pass the new federal health care bill –

with its higher costs and greater risks for middle class and older Americans – opponents breathed a sigh of relief.

We should have saved our breath. It seems that both the White House and House GOP leaders are working to bring back the American Health Care Act, and late-night meetings and backroom deals in Washington are making a bad bill even worse.

The original AHCA – an effort to repeal Obamacare – bill would allow insurance companies to charge older people five times what they charge others for the same coverage while reducing the tax credits that help lower- and middle-income Americans afford coverage. Those changes amount to an “age tax” that could cost up to $13,000 a year more for an older American, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

Since then, to round up more support, proponents have advanced another awful idea: allowing insurance companies to deny coverage or dramatically increase costs for people with pre-existing health conditions like cancer, heart disease and diabetes.

Current law prohibits insurers from discriminating against people with pre-existing conditions. Without this protection, millions of Americans and their families would face the fear of great financial distress or ruin on top of dealing with a serious health problem.

People between ages 50 and 64 are especially at risk from a plan that would end or erode protection for those with a pre-existing health condition. Nationally, 40 percent of that age group – or 25 million people, including nearly 1.5 million New Yorkers – have pre-existing health conditions, according to AARP’s Public Policy Institute. In each of Long Island’s four congressional districts, about 160,000 people ages 45 to 64 have pre-existing conditions.

New York was wise enough, years ago, to enact a “community rating” law that protects its residents from both age-based premium disparities and denial of coverage for pre-existing conditions.

But if AHCA 2.0 were to become law, it could erode the foundations of New York’s law enough to force our state into modifying its program, opening the door to the same kinds of unfair disparities that would impact most of the rest of the nation immediately.

To make matters worse, the new bill would weaken Medicare’s finances, potentially leading to Medicare vouchers. The 57 million Americans who rely on Medicare and the workers earning their benefits by paying into the program could face increased costs and risks they can’t afford.

And the measure does nothing to lower America’s highest-in-the-world prescription drug prices – which increased by thousands of dollars last year alone – while giving drug and insurance companies $200 billion in tax breaks. From lifesaving cancer treatments to EpiPens, drug companies’ skyrocketing prices are pushing critical medications out of reach for those who need them.

AARP calls on Reps. Lee Zeldin, Peter King and the rest of the state’s House delegation to oppose this bitter legislative pill and not only protect middle class and older Americans but also their home state’s wiser and fairer policy.

This bill punishes older Americans and rewards special interests. We won’t stand by as Washington cuts backroom deals that cut down on our health care. We won’t forget who supported this bill — and who stood against it.

Beth Finkel is New York State director for the AARP.