Brown introduces legislation to support workers at VA Health Centers

Staff Report



WASHINGTON, D.C. – This week (Feb. 17), following a letter from U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and his Senate colleagues, the Trump Administration dropped plans for an executive action that would increase the price of health insurance for older Ohioans.

“Older Ohioans should not have to pay more for health insurance in order to bolster profit margins for insurance company executives,” said Brown. “While I am glad the Administration has heeded our call to abandon this proposal, I will continue to work with my colleagues to fight actions that would overturn healthcare protections currently in place at the expense of Ohioans.”

In a letter to U.S. Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Tom Price, Brown and his colleagues asked Price to drop reported plans by the Administration to roll back current protections that prevent health insurance companies from charging older Americans more than three times what they charge younger Americans. The letter highlighted previous actions by insurance companies to charge older Americans 25 times more for health insurance prior to the enactment of these protections.

A copy of the letter is available below.

Dear Secretary Price:

We write to express our serious concerns that the Trump administration is reportedly considering a change to the Affordable Care Act (ACA) that would have the direct impact of increasing health insurance costs for older adults and ask that this policy be removed from consideration. We oppose rolling back consumer protections established in the ACA that protect older Americans from discrimination. Loosening the age rating requirements in the ACA without also expanding advance premium tax credits is a misguided policy that will make health insurance less affordable for millions of Americans.

The Affordable Care Act established age bands to limit how much insurance companies can charge to cover older adults in the non-group market. Because of the ACA, insurance companies cannot charge older adults more than three times what they charge for younger adults. Loosening the age band would allow insurance companies to increase the cost of coverage for older adults in the non-group market and lead to reduced benefits. Before ACA was enacted, some states let insurance companies charge older adults as much as 25 times more than they charged younger adults. The 3:1 age band is a critically important consumer protection for older Americans, and without including additional federal assistance to older Americans, we urge you not to undermine it.

Studies have looked at proposals to widen the age band in the ACA, and while the impact of these proposals varies depending on its details, one study has concluded that one such proposal to widen the age band would increase premium costs for adults ages 60 and older by $3,192, an increase of 22 percent. While insurance companies will collect more money to cover older adults under these proposals, older adults will have to bear the burden of increased costs and reduced access to care. We are concerned that the reported proposal to relax the age band will amount to an insurance company give-away at the expense of older adults.

Congressional Republicans have voted and taken actions to take away critical financial assistance for people on the exchange – assistance that helps individuals afford the cost of care. The Republican reconciliation bill, H.R. 3762, to repeal the ACA would have eliminated these premium tax credits and the cost-sharing reductions. Republicans in the House of Representatives also brought a lawsuit to abolish the ACA’s cost-sharing reductions, which could collapse the individual market and leave millions without health care. Attempts to take away premium subsidies would hurt low and moderate-income Americans in all age groups. If such efforts are successful, the increased costs to older Americans due to the reported proposal to widen the age band would be felt with an even greater intensity.

Additionally, the age bands established by the ACA were codified explicitly in statute. The law states that premium rates charged by health insurance companies for coverage in the individual or small group market “shall not vary by more than 3 to 1 for adults.” Clearly, as the statute shows, it was Congress’s intent to limit age rating by a ratio of precisely 3 to 1. Therefore, reports that the Trump administration is considering directly contradicting the statute by widening the age are incredibly troubling and should not proceed.

Charging older adults higher costs for coverage on the non-group market would harm their access to care. We urge you not to widen the 3:1 age band established by the ACA.

Ohio is Home to Five VA Medical Facilities

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) recently introduced legislation to support healthcare workers at Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) medical facilities. The VA Employee Fairness Act would help build and retain a strong, talented team of nurses, physicians, and other healthcare professionals by restoring the right to bargain for wages and benefits for VA medical professionals. Ohio is home to five VA medical facilities in Chillicothe, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, and Dayton.

“Creating a better workplace for VHA nurses, doctors, and other healthcare providers will lead to higher quality care for Ohio veterans,” said Brown. “All workers should have the opportunity to bargain for better wages, benefits, and working conditions – including those serving the Veterans Health Administration who care for our veterans.”

While VA employees have had collective bargaining rights since 1991, health care providers are exempted from collective bargaining on matters of professional conduct or competence, peer-review, or changes to employee compensation. As a result, they are prevented from raising grievances about staffing shortages that undermine patient care or negotiating for competitive pay that will attract health care workers to the VA. The VA Employee Fairness Act removes this exemption, and grants front line health care providers their full collective bargaining rights.

U.S. Rep. Mark Takano (D-CA-41) introduced a House companion bill.

“The quality of care our veterans receive is ultimately determined by the quality of the VA workforce that treats them,” said Rep. Takano. “We need to focus our efforts on recruiting the best doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals to VA health facilities and this bill is a step in the right direction.”

The VA Employee Fairness Act is supported by the American Federation Government Employees (AFGE) and National Nurses United.

“The Employee Fairness Act will make the VA stronger and continue its reputation as a world-class health care system for our nation’s veterans,” said AFGE National President J. David Cox. “The Act will help the VA recruit and retain much-needed front-line doctors and nurses at medical centers across the country. This legislation will ensure those workers have strong workplace rights and are not silenced when they advocate for improvements to veterans’ care.”

“Registered nurses are on the front lines of patient care for our nation’s veterans – in fact, they serve as the first line of defense for patients in the V.A.,” said Jean Ross, RN, Co-President of National Nurses United. “Without full collective bargaining rights, V.A. nurses have been limited in their ability to speak out about working conditions that impact the quality and safety of patient care, such as safe staffing.

“The restoration of their full collective bargaining rights is necessary for registered nurses to serve as effective advocates for their patients,” she continued. “We applaud Senator Brown and Rep. Takano for fighting for improved patient care in the V.A., and the restoration of the rights of RNs in the V.A.”


Staff Report