AARP, unions target Blue Dogs on healthcare

The powerful senior citizens' lobby AARP is joining forces with labor unions and liberal organizations to criticize a push by centrist Blue Dog Democrats in the House to reduce insurance subsidies under healthcare reform.

The AARP, the union-backed Health Care for America Now (HCAN), several unions and other allied groups urge House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and three House committee chairmen to resist making changes to the subsidies in the bill.

Though the letter does not mention the Blue Dogs or any centrist lawmakers by name, the AARP, HCAN and the other groups offer strong support for the health insurance premium subsidies already in the House bill, which are available to people earning up to 400 percent of the federal poverty level.

"We commend you for providing sliding-scale premium subsidies to families up to 400 percent of the federal poverty line," the letter says. "With family health premiums now averaging close to $13,000 per year, premiums alone constitute a significant portion of income even for people at the upper end of this standard."

A separate statement from HCAN takes on the Blue Dogs directly, saying they are "threatening affordable healthcare" by pressuring House Democratic leaders to dial back a proposed $544 billion surtax on wealthy people and reduce eligibility for the subsidies.

"Health Care for America Now believes Blue Dogs should support the surcharge on families who earn more than $350,000 instead of making middle-class families pay thousands of dollars for health insurance," the statement says.

Pelosi has suggested numerous times in recent days that the surtax could instead be restricted to millionaires after complaints from Blue Dogs and freshman Democrats that the tax would affect too many small-business owners.