People 60 and older don’t get picked on much in politics. Seniors have long been a sort of untouchable “third rail.” That just changed with the GOP health bill.
It would be hyperbole to say Obamacare saved Christian Holtz’s life.
It definitely saved his quality of life, though. It saved his bacon.
“I would have been bankrupt for sure,” Holtz says. “I would have been at the mercy of the emergency room and the debt-collection system.”
Holtz, 62, is one of those do-it-yourselfer guys Seattle used to be known for. He lives on a boat, at Shilshole Marina. To get by, he teaches drivers’ education to teens, as well as sailing. He’s also a prop-plane pilot who has flown thousands of volunteer hours with Angel Flight West, which transports severely sick patients for free to hospital appointments.
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But none of that work comes with steady benefits. So he had medical coverage only sporadically until 2013, when he signed up under the Affordable Care Act. Because he makes only $30,000 yearly, the government paid about two-thirds of his premiums.
“I was 59 and never used health care much — had never really even been to the doctor,” Holtz says.
But two years later, both of his hip joints degraded to bone-on-bone. The pain was excruciating. Long story short: Holtz now has two titanium-and-ceramic hip joints. But it cost almost $100,000, which his Obamacare insurance is covering (after a $6,500 deductible.)
“I would be out on the street,” he says.
Holtz’s story is revealing for two reasons. One, it’s a case study in why Obamacare’s private-insurance markets are struggling. Younger, healthier people haven’t signed up in large enough numbers, leaving the exchanges filled with older folks, like Holtz, who have much higher health costs.
But two is that Republicans now have come out with their solution to this problem. Which is to force Holtz and everyone like him off health coverage entirely.
The Republican health bill is the most direct assault on older people that I’ve ever seen in politics. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) noted that for people in Holtz’s demographic, the GOP bill would escalate their portion of their health premiums an incredible 758 percent. That’s from $1,700 a year, under Obamacare, to $14,600 under the GOP bill.
“That’d be half my earnings,” Holtz says.
This is why the CBO estimated 24 million people would lose insurance — because they simply couldn’t pay. Holtz would likely have gone to a hospital instead and pleaded for charity care.
The biggest lobby group for seniors, AARP, says the GOP bill is an unprecedented triple whammy on old people. In addition to the premium hikes, it would reduce the solvency of the over-65 health program, Medicare, and slash Medicaid, which provides nursing-home payments.
Now, Congress could prevent this from happening by not giving $600 billion in tax cuts to the rich and instead investing that money in the health of seniors and people struggling to get by. But that would basically be Obamacare.
Holtz is a Seattle liberal and so was never expecting to like the Republican reforms. But he was taken aback at how vigorously they go after older people.
“It’s insane the direction politics is going in this country,” he said. “You work hard, you get older and then maybe you need to be taken care of a little bit. Why is that idea controversial?”
It didn’t used to be. Twenty years ago, it would have been unthinkable for a major party to even dream up a bill that so clearly harms the constituency that votes the most. That this one does it to give tax cuts to the well-off makes it even more provocative. “If I was a 62-year-old Trump supporter, of modest means as I am, I would be going ballistic right now,” Holtz said. “Is this what they signed up for — huge medical costs for them, and tax cuts for the rich?”
Good question, but man I don’t know the answer. I’ve never seen a bill this ugly, as I said. But I also think we’ll all die waiting before Trump supporters acknowledge what really happened here. Which is that they’ve been conned.