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Healthcare or Wealthcare? 24 Million to Lose Insurance Under GOP Plan While Rich Get Big Tax Breaks

StoryMarch 14, 2017
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Elisabeth Benjamin

vice president of Health Initiatives at the Community Service Society of New York and co-founder of the Health Care for All New York campaign.

A startling new report from the Congressional Budget Office is projecting 24 million people will lose health insurance coverage by 2026 under the Republican plan to replace the Affordable Care Act. Fourteen million people would lose health insurance in the next year alone. While the White House rejected the CBO findings, Politico is reporting the White House’s own analysis predicts 26 million people will lose coverage under the bill over the next decade. According to the CBO, the bill would reduce the deficit by $337 billion, but one of the biggest beneficiaries of the Republican bill will be millionaires. A new study by the Tax Policy Center shows people in the top 0.1 percent would get a tax cut of about $207,000 under the plan. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi accused Republicans of attempting to push through the biggest transfer of wealth in the nation’s history. We speak to Elisabeth Benjamin, vice president of Health Initiatives at the Community Service Society of New York and co-founder of the Health Care for All New York campaign.


TRANSCRIPT
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: A startling new report from the Congressional Budget Office is projecting 24 million Americans will lose health insurance coverage by 2026 under the Republican plan to replace the Affordable Care Act. Fourteen million people will lose health insurance in the next year alone. Just hours before the CBO report was released, President Trump claimed the Republican plan would ensure healthcare access for all.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Now, I have to tell you, it’s an unbelievably complex subject. Nobody knew that healthcare could be so complicated.

AMY GOODMAN: While the White House rejected the CBO findings, Politico is reporting the White House’s own analysis predicts 26 million people will lose coverage under the bill over the next decade. The CBO also found that premiums would initially skyrocket for some Americans under the Republican plan. The agency said a 64-year-old making around $26,000 a year would see their premiums jump 700 percent, from $1,700 under Obamacare to over $14,000 a year under the Republican bill. But the CBO said premiums would eventually decrease for most Americans. On Monday, House Speaker Paul Ryan stunned Fox News host Bret Baier when he described the CBO’s findings as "encouraging."

BRET BAIER: Your reaction on these numbers and what they mean?

SPEAKER PAUL RYAN: Well, actually, I think if you read this entire report, I’m pretty encouraged by it. And it actually exceeded my expectations.

BRET BAIER: Mr. Speaker, if you’re encouraged by this CBO report, what’s a CBO report you’re discouraged by?

SPEAKER PAUL RYAN: No, I’ve seen a lot. I’ve been reading them all half my life. But the point I’m saying is, what CBO did was they validated. We are block-granting Medicaid back to the states, saving $880 billion right there. This is an $883 billion tax cut for families and small businesses that helps lower their healthcare costs. And it saves money and reduces the deficit. So that’s really good on all those points.

AMY GOODMAN: House Speaker Paul Ryan went on to praise the cost savings in the House bill. According to the CBO, the bill would reduce the deficit by $337 billion. But one of the biggest beneficiaries of the Republican bill will be millionaires. According to new research by the Tax Policy [Center], people in the top 0.1 percent would get a tax cut of about $207,000 under the plan. U.S. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi accused Republicans of attempting to push through the biggest transfer of wealth in the nation’s history.

REP. NANCY PELOSI: The CBO has reported that the Republican bill pushes 24 million people out of healthcare, off of health coverage. This is a remarkable figure. It speaks so eloquently to the cruelty of the bill that the speaker calls an "act of mercy." I don’t know if he thinks it’s an act of mercy to all the people who will lose coverage, to people who will lose jobs, to the hospitals that may have to close down, especially in rural areas. I don’t know if he thinks it’s an act of mercy to people on opioid addiction and other addictions or looking to Medicaid as an answer, as many of Republican governors have spoken to. This is—OK, so they’re taking 24 million people, pushing them off their coverage. And as they do so, they are implementing the biggest transfer of wealth in our history: $600 billion going from working families to the richest people and corporations in our country.

AMY GOODMAN: Just hours before the CBO report was released, President Trump claimed the Republican plan would ensure healthcare access for all.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: The House plan will expand choice, lower costs and ensure healthcare access for all. We’re negotiating with everybody. It’s a big, fat, beautiful negotiation. And hopefully we’ll come up with something that’s going to be really terrific. I want to thank Paul Ryan and everybody, Mitch, everybody. They’re all working 'round the clock. And I think, ultimately, the big beneficiary will be the American people. We'll end up with a really great healthcare plan. We’re also going to send Congress a budget request that will include one of the largest increases to defense spending in our history.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re joined here in a very snowy New York by Elisabeth Benjamin. She’s vice president of Health Initiatives at the Community Service Society of New York and co-founder of Health Care for All.

Welcome to Democracy Now!, Elisabeth. Your assessment of the Republican plan and this really explosive assessment by the Congressional Budget Office?

ELISABETH BENJAMIN: I mean, it’s simply devastating for low-income people and for working people, that what they’re going to do is rob $880 billion from the Medicaid program. They’re going to rob $673 million in tax care—tax credits and subsidies from middle- and working-income people, and pay for tax cuts to the very wealthy in the order of around $600 billion. So, it’s just—these are extraordinary numbers. I don’t think people understand that 41 percent of the people on Medicaid are children. The remainder are elderly, people with disabilities and very low-income wage earners.

I was helping a woman recently who used to work in a very high-end department store. And now she got a bad knee from standing up so much in her department store work and then now works in a coffee shop, and she makes around $16,000 a year. She’s on Medicaid. Medicaid has saved her life. She’s been able to get the treatment for her knee, and she’s been able to keep working. She’s in her fifties. If she were to—she is going from having free healthcare on Medicaid, that’s helping low-wage workers, to a $16,000 health insurance plan. It’s insane. And you can’t afford, basically, to pay what you earn.

However, wealthy people will be getting an incredible tax cut. So, the Peterson Institute for International Economics just released a statement saying people who make $1 million will be getting a $12,900 tax cut, while the people who are earning $26,000, who are older, will be getting a $12,000 insurance rate hike. This is not fair. It’s not right. And it’s unethical.

AMY GOODMAN: So, let’s go to Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Tom Price, speaking on Monday.

DR. TOM PRICE: You just look at the numbers. There are 8 million people, 8, 9 million people, who are on the exchange currently. I’m not sure how they’re going to get to 14 million people uninsured, if that’s what they say, with only 8 million people on the exchange. There are individuals, I guess, that they assume that are on Medicaid, who aren’t paying anything in the Medicaid system, who are going to not take Medicaid system—take the Medicaid policy, just because the mandate ended or the—or something happened. It just is—it’s just not believable, is what we would suggest. And we’ll look at the numbers and see.

AMY GOODMAN: So that’s Dr. Tom Price.

ELISABETH BENJAMIN: I mean, that just shows a shocking level of ignorance for our highest health official in the country. I mean, what they are doing is robbing money from the Medicaid program, robbing money from the states. They’re incentivizing states to cut people off of Medicaid. Instead of being looked at the eligibility once a year, they’re changing it to every six months. Instead of letting people have retroactive Medicaid if they get into an accident and go into a coma, that goes backwards for a month while you were in a coma, they’re getting rid of that. They’re basically incentivizing the states to cut off Medicaid for low-income and working people. And we will have no more Medicaid program for them. So the fact that he doesn’t understand how the numbers were derived by the Congressional Budget Office—by the way, which were rosier than the White House’s own numbers. He’s in the White House. Can’t he read the reports? I find that just a shocking display of ignorance.

AMY GOODMAN: Unless that’s his intention.

ELISABETH BENJAMIN: Well, or unless they’re just simply pretending, I mean, to obscure facts, which seems to be the plan here. But the bottom line is, is real people will get hurt, like my waitress, like children, like seniors, people in nursing homes. It’s really an unconscionable bill.

AMY GOODMAN: So, talk about a 20-year-old and a 60-year-old and what’s going to happen to them.

ELISABETH BENJAMIN: Sure. A 20-year-old—so, now we’re moving from Medicaid for a second to what’s happening in the marketplaces. So we’re talking about people with a little more income, say around $16,000 a year and above. What will happen to a 20-year-old who is earning around $18,000 is they will get a $2,000 tax credit. Now, they’re able to buy a plan that costs $150, so they’re going to be a net winner. So that will incentivize—and this is what they’re trying to do, is incentivize more young people to get into the health insurance market. Not a bad idea on its face to incentivize young people to get into the marketplace. But their means are pernicious and evil.

The 60-year-old will have to pay, right now, who’s making the same amount of money, around $20,000—will be asked to pay five times more, because they’re going to allow age rating, which means they’re going to say, if you’re older, you have to pay five times more than a younger person. They’re not going to base it on income anymore. Before it was like you pay as much as you can, up to set amounts, up to 400 percent of poverty. Now they’re saying, "Forget about your income and how much you can afford. Everybody has to pay the same amount. And, P.S., if you’re older, you have to pay five times more."

AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn to House Speaker Paul Ryan on Sunday, speaking to Face the Nation. He said he doesn’t know how many Americans will lose coverage under the healthcare proposal.

SPEAKER PAUL RYAN: I can’t answer that question. It’s up to people. Here’s the premise of your question: Are you going to stop mandating people buy health insurance? People are going to do what they want to do with their lives, because we believe in individual freedom in this country. So, the question is: Are we providing a system where people have access to health insurance if they choose to do so? And the answer is yes. But are we going to have some nice-looking spreadsheet that says, "We, the government of the American—of the United States, are going to make people buy something, and therefore they’re all going to buy it"? No. That’s the fatal conceit of Obamacare in the first place. So it’s not our job to make people do something that they don’t want to do. It is our job to have a system where people can get universal access to affordable coverage, if they choose to do so or not. That’s what we’re going to be accomplishing.

AMY GOODMAN: So, House Speaker Ryan says it’s all about choice—except when it comes to choice in reproductive rights.

ELISABETH BENJAMIN: Well, it’s not about choice, because they’re basically going to guarantee that health insurance premiums will be unaffordable for older people. You know, when people were asked what they didn’t like about the of Affordable Care Act, it was they had copays and deductibles. This bill is a guarantee that—it’s a race to the bottom. Deductibles will be even higher. Copays will be larger. And they’re going to allow it. The Affordable Care Act set standards for what health—what good health insurance would be. Now, you could buy lower-quality insurance; you could buy higher-quality insurance. You had choice, but—and you, arguably, you know, had lots of subsidies for people who really needed it. What’s happening here is they’re giving a transfer of wealth to very well-income—very well-off people who don’t need it, and they’re basically robbing it from low-income people, people on Medicaid, seniors, people with disabilities and the working poor and middle-income people. And it’s just not right, and we have to say no.

AMY GOODMAN: I saw you speaking to hundreds of people on Sunday here in New York City, something you’ve been doing a lot. Sometimes a thousand people packed into a hall to really understand what this is all about. And one of the descriptions of this was wealthcare, not healthcare.

ELISABETH BENJAMIN: That’s about right. You know, it’s just—I think we are at a point as a country where we have to decide who we really are. And if we’re really about enabling the super-rich to be richer at the expense of vulnerable populations, like children, old people, people with disabilities and the working poor—who, by the way, aren’t getting things necessarily for free. They’re having to pay what they can. It’s just—that’s the Affordable Care Act. That is a fair and just system of healthcare. It’s not perfect. We can make it better. But this is making it—it’s throwing it away and offering and substituting it with something much worse that’s going to really hurt real people.

AMY GOODMAN: Elisabeth Benjamin, I want to thank you for being with us, vice president of Health Initiatives at the Community Service Society and co-founder of the Health Care for All New York campaign. This is Democracy Now! We’ll be back with more on health insurance and healthcare in a minute.

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