screen-shot-2018-09-04-at-5-26-41-pm-300x191-9173918In TV and radio ads airing across the country, House Democrats are accusing Republicans who voted to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act—including New York’s John Faso, Claudia Tenney and Lee Zeldin—of trying to impose an “age tax” on older consumers.

This deceptive argument, coined by AARP last year, is particularly misleading in the context of New York State’s insurance market.

Due to a quirk in New York law, the state’s older residents actually stood to save money under the House GOP’s proposal, while younger consumers would have faced higher costs.

There were other potential reasons for New Yorkers to be leery of the House GOP’s repeal-and-replace bill, including the loss of billions in federal Medicaid funding. The direct impact on premiums for the elderly was not one of them.

At issue is the long-standing practice of “age rating,” in which insurance companies charge older customers more than younger customers—to reflect their generally poorer health and far higher demand for doctor’s visits, prescription drugs and hospital stays.

A provision of the ACA limited this practice, allowing insurers to charge their oldest customers no more than three times more than their youngest ones. This tends to reduce premiums for the elderly, but it also increases them for people in their 20s. It has the side effect of discouraging younger, healthier people from buying coverage, weakening the risk pool and driving up premiums for everyone.

In New York, however, this ACA rule had no effect, because the state had previously banned age rating completely in the early 1990s. Vermont is the only other state with this policy.

The GOP-sponsored American Health Care Act, which passed the House in May 2017 but died in the Senate, would have increased the age-rating ratio allowed under federal law to to 5-to-1, as a way of making insurance more affordable for the young. The AARP branded this provision an “age tax,” since it was expected to increase premiums for the elderly—without acknowledging that the ACA had effectively created a “youth tax” by increasing costs for the young.

To offset the effect on the elderly, the House Republican bill also would have replaced the ACA’s income-based insurance tax credits with credits based on age, ranging from $2,000 a year for people in the 20s to $4,000 for people in their 60s.

In New York, however, the change to a 5-1 ratio would have been moot because of the state’s ban on age rating. The changes to the tax credits would still have applied, effectively granting an unnecessary discount for the elderly while increasing net costs for the young.

This would have exacerbated the issue the ratio change was supposed solve—but it was precisely the opposite of an “age tax.”

The Democrats’ House Majority PAC has used the “age tax” argument against Republican candidates in at least a dozen states. In the rest of those states, it’s a misleading oversimplification of a complex policy change. In the context of New York’s insurance market, the PAC’s one-size-fits-all message turns the facts upside-down.

About the Author

Bill Hammond

As the Empire Center’s senior fellow for health policy, Bill Hammond tracks fast-moving developments in New York’s massive health care industry, with a focus on how decisions made in Albany and Washington affect the well-being of patients, providers, taxpayers and the state’s economy.

Read more by Bill Hammond

You may also like

The Public Can Now See the Vaccine Task Force Recommendations that the Cuomo Administration Held Back

Even as Governor Cuomo touted vaccine approvals by a state-appointed panel of experts, his office was withholding the group's detailed findings from public view. The governor's six- Read More

New York’s Medicaid and Public Health Crises Get Short Shrift in the New State Budget

In spite of an ongoing pandemic and spiraling Medicaid costs, New York's health-care system received surprisingly little attention in the new state budget. On issue after issue, law Read More

New York Lags in COVID-19 Vaccinations for Older Residents

In the race to vaccinate its oldest and most vulnerable residents, New York has fallen behind. Although the state's overall COVID-19 vaccination rate is somewhat higher than the nat Read More

Lawmakers Mull Medicaid Proposals That Would Speed New York Toward a Fiscal Cliff

As a budget deal nears in Albany, reining in spiraling Medicaid costs seems to be the last thing on anyone's mind. Governor Cuomo is advancing only Read More

Cuomo Pushes Budget Change Sought by Hospital Group Implicated in Pandemic Scandals

A hospital lobbying group at the heart of scandals plaguing the Cuomo administration is again getting the governor's help in pushing a late change to the state budget. Aides to Gove Read More

New York’s Pandemic Progress Deteriorates Along with Cuomo’s Political Standing

New York's progress in combating the coronavirus pandemic has stalled in recent weeks, leaving the state with the highest COVID-19 hospitalization rate and second-highest infection rate in the U.S. Read More

New York’s Shrinking Budget for Public Health Deserves More Attention

As Medicaid costs spiraled over the past decade, other parts of the state Health Department were losing money and staff—leaving New York with diminished public health resources when the pandemic struck last year. Read More

The Cuomo Administration Releases More Data on Coronavirus Deaths in New York Nursing Homes

The state Health Department has revealed additional detail about coronavirus deaths in New York nursing homes, showing for the first time how many residents of each home died of COVID-19 outside of the facility, typically in a hospital. Read More

Subscribe

Sign up to receive updates about Empire Center research, news and events in your email.

CONTACT INFORMATION

Empire Center for Public Policy
30 South Pearl St.
Suite 1210
Albany, NY 12207

Phone: 518-434-3100
Fax: 518-434-3130
E-Mail: info@empirecenter.org

About

The Empire Center is an independent, non-partisan, non-profit think tank located in Albany, New York. Our mission is to make New York a better place to live and work by promoting public policy reforms grounded in free-market principles, personal responsibility, and the ideals of effective and accountable government.

Empire Center Logo "...the Empire Center is the think tank that spent months trying to pry Covid data out of Mr. Cuomo's government, which offered a series of unbelievable excuses for its refusal to disclose...five months after it (the Empire Center) sued, Team Cuomo finally started coughing up some of the records." -Wall Street Journal, February 19, 2021

SIGN UP TO READ ABOUT THE ISSUES IMPACTING NEW YORKERS.