The release of the poll is part of the multipronged offensive that AARP is mounting against House Republicans’ health care bill. The mammoth seniors organization represents Americans 50 and older and has 38 million members.
Older Trump voters who were surveyed expressed opposition to two key elements of the American Health Care Act, House Republicans’ proposed replacement for Obamacare.
First, they express wariness of the law’s projected impact on Medicaid. The American Health Care Act would roll back the expansion of Medicaid eligibility and cap funding per recipient. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates that this would result in a significant reduction in coverage, as most states would scale back eligibility to what it was before Obamacare took effect — and as overall payments for the program failed to keep up with health care costs.
Older workers have reason to be concerned about Medicaid cuts. About 6.5 million Medicaid recipients are Americans 65 or older who also receive Medicare. The program’s coverage of nursing home care is especially essential for seniors.
The respondents to AARP’s survey strongly believe in preserving Medicaid funding at its current levels. Seventy-three percent of all older voters, including 55 percent of Trump voters, would like Congress to “keep funding for Medicaid where it is now” if Obamacare is repealed, according to AARP.
Respondents also preferred keeping Medicaid as an open guarantee rather than a flat amount doled out to states or recipients. The program currently provides as much funding as necessary to cover eligible recipients health care costs.
In a question about Medicaid’s funding structure, AARP notes that the capped Medicaid payments in the Republican bill would rise “with inflation but may not cover rising costs of health care needs.” Sixty-eight percent of the surveyed voters, including 59 percent of Trump voters, support preserving Medicaid in its current form.
The other major component of the Republican bill that older workers disliked is a feature that would allow insurance companies to charge older workers five times more than their younger peers.
The law would create tax breaks that could be used to purchase insurance and that would increase with age. But they only increase by a factor of two, which is not enough to cover the full cost of the increase. The provision, which AARP has dubbed an “age tax,” would be a significant increase from the current 3-to-1 ratio permitted by Obamacare. Due in part to this increase, the replacement law would lead to a 20 percent to 25 percent rise in premiums for 64-year-olds by 2026, according to CBO.
In its survey, AARP used its own estimate that buying insurance would cost many seniors as much as $8,400 more per year under the House Republicans’ plan. When AARP asked respondents whether they view the age rating provision as levying an “age tax” for that reason, 55 percent of voters said they did, including 51 percent of Trump voters.
AARP has expressed its opposition to the bill in a letter to Congress, and is running internet ads and radio ads attacking the 5-to-1 age ratio and other provisions. It also plans to send each of its members a mailer showing how their member of Congress voted on the bill, and to keep members up to date via email and social media.
But as public opinion over Obamacare proved, voters’ feelings about the specific provisions of a law often have little bearing on their feelings about the law as a whole. Despite their support for features of Obamacare that Republicans seek to eliminate, 72 percent of Trump voters strongly oppose the existing health care law, according to the AARP poll.
These voters aren’t sure how to feel about the Republican bill, however. A plurality of the older Trump voters ― 41 percent ― said that they “somewhat support” the American Health Care Act, and 33 percent said they do not know what to think.
Perhaps the most intriguing finding of the AARP poll is that older Americans of all political stripes support taking a harder line with pharmaceutical companies to control Medicare’s costs. Given a choice between turning Medicare into a voucher and empowering the program to negotiate drug prices with the pharmaceutical companies, 78 percent of voters surveyed, including 67 percent of Trump voters, backed drug price negotiation. A similarly high percentage of respondents believe that drug prices “are the result of big drug company monopolies and the deals their lobbyists make.”
The Benenson Strategy Group and the GS Strategy Group, which conducted the phone survey for AARP, polled a representative sample of 605 Americans aged 50 or older who voted in the 2016 election. Almost half of them were Trump voters.
White House press secretary Sean Spicer has downplayed AARP’s opposition to the health care bill, calling the organization a “special interest.”
But Republicans appear aware of AARP’s power ― or are at least sensitive to concerns about how older voters will respond to the law. House Republican leaders have added $85 billion to the bill for extra tax credits to help workers over 50 afford insurance under the law, Politico reported Monday.