In their first swipe at the federal Affordable Care Act, West Virginia Republican lawmakers advanced a bill Tuesday that would take away Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s power over any future changes in how West Virginians receive subsidized health insurance under the act.
The House Health and Human Resources Committee voted 14-9 for the bill (HB2216) that would give the Legislature control of any changes to the state’s health care exchange that provides subsidized insurance to 19,800 West Virginians under the ACA.
Democrats and Republicans on the committee sparred for nearly two hours over the bill’s implications and timing.
“This is nothing more than a legislative power grab,” said Delegate Shawn Fluharty, D-Ohio.
This summer, the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule whether states like West Virginia can continue to offer subsidized health insurance through exchanges that partner with the federal government — or exchanges totally run by the feds.
“We’re being very proactive,” said Delegate Eric Householder, R-Berkeley. “Hopefully, we’re sending the message it’s our duty, our role, to make these decisions and not be usurped.”
Democrats said the timing of the GOP-backed bill couldn’t be worse.
The Supreme Court’s decision could leave West Virginia with only three months to set up a new state-run health exchange. And if the bill passes, a special legislative session would be required to authorize a state-controlled exchange.
Perry Bryant, executive director of West Virginians for Affordable Health Care, told lawmakers Tuesday that it wouldn’t be feasible to establish a state-run exchange in just a few months.
Any delays could cost West Virginia $61 million in health insurance subsidies and leave thousands of residents without health insurance, the bill’s critics say.
“This bill could have enormous financial implications to our state,” said Delegate Barbara Fleischauer, D-Monongalia.
Democrats said the bill would hamstring the governor, preventing him from moving swiftly to get a new exchange up and running.
“This is not broken,” said Delegate Nancy Guthrie, D-Kanawha. “Why risk what we already have until we hear from the Supreme Court? We’re putting the cart before the horse.”
Republicans said complaints about the bill were just “hyperbole.” They said the Legislature — not the governor — should have the final say on any changes to the health insurance exchange.
“We’re basically trying to take a lollipop from one kid and giving it to another,” said Delegate Larry Faircloth, R-Berkeley.
On Tuesday, the health committee revised the bill so that it wouldn’t dismantle West Virginia’s “partnership exchange” with the federal government — as critics alleged earlier this week.
“The only thing this bill does is place the responsibility of reacting to the court case on the Legislature,” said Delegate Patrick Lane, R-Kanawha.
The bill next moves to the House Judiciary Committee.
Democrats have referred to the legislation as an “ACA kill bill.” Delegate Matthew Rohrbach, R-Cabell, spoke against the bill Tuesday, but later voted for it. Rorhbach is a Huntington doctor.
Reach Eric Eyre at email@example.com, 304-348-4869 or follow @ericeyre on Twitter.