One of the most prominent voices with Iowa's older population has launched a campaign to push back against elements of the Republican effort to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.
AARP is in the midst of sponsoring a series of public forums across the state targeting House legislation approved last month. In addition, it has begun airing television ads aimed at influencing Sens. Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst.
"Iowans are very worried about the cost of their health insurance, especially Iowans between the ages of 50 to 64," Kent Sovern, AARP's Iowa state director, said this week. "AARP is taking a strong stand against the American Health Care Act because we want to ensure that the priorities and needs of our more than 370,000 Iowa members and all Americans 50-plus are addressed."
Since passage of the House bill, a small group of Republican senators have been meeting privately to put together their own bill. It's not clear when a vote will come, but Republican leaders had targeted action before the July 4 recess.
Earlier this week, AARP announced it was launching a seven-figure television buy in eight states to put pressure on 11 key senators, including Grassley and Ernst.
The group's 30-second ad, which features a financial adviser speaking to a couple older than 50, says the House bill imposes an "age tax" and allows insurers to charge "thousands more" for people with pre-existing conditions such as asthma.
"This is going to be a big bill," the adviser in the ad tells the couple.
Television station records say that AARP is spending about $107,000 on the ads in the Quad-Cities. They're scheduled to run over the next couple of weeks.
Anthony Carroll, associate state director for advocacy for AARP in Iowa, said the House bill is a "starting point" for the Senate and this a key chance for AARP to weigh in with lawmakers.
"It's a top priority for us to really elevate this issue," he said.
A spokeswoman for Grassley stressed Friday that the Senate is writing its own bill but that the senator is concerned with how people with pre-existing conditions will be treated, as well as what happens with mental health coverage.
"Senators have studied the House bill and listened to many interested individuals and groups and are now writing the Senate’s own bill," the spokeswoman, Jill Gerber, said. "Senator Grassley will study the final Senate bill when it’s ready."
A spokeswoman for Ernst, Leigh Claffey, also noted the Senate "continues to work carefully on its own bill to ensure affordable, and patient-centered health care solutions."
How the legislation would treat people with pre-existing conditions in the individual insurance market is a key concern. The Affordable Care Act prohibits denying coverage to people because of their health status. The House bill retains that protection but lets states allow insurers to charge higher rates to people who have had coverage lapse. The legislation also opens the door to allowing higher premiums for people based on age.
AARP also has expressed worries that the House health care bill will cut Medicaid funding, which provides support for the disabled and elderly, as well as the poor. The legislation would cut funding for the program by $880 billion over 10 years, not only rolling back the expansion under the Affordable Care Act but also by putting caps on some spending.
The AARP's efforts in Iowa come as the state is seeking to lure insurers into the individual marketplace for 2018.
Two of the three insurers that sold policies statewide in 2017 said in April they were dropping out next year, while a third expressed doubts about re-entering.
This week, Iowa Insurance Commissioner Doug Ommen announced he was offering a proposal to the Trump administration to try to rebuild the individual market by restructuring premium tax credits, establishing a state-based high-risk pool and offering a single, standardized insurance plan.