As Congress continues to move forward with plans to repeal the Affordable Care Act, West Virginians who have benefited from the law and their advocates gathered Thursday to ask lawmakers not get rid of it without a plan for replacing it.
West Virginians for Affordable Health Care held the news conference at its office in Charleston.
More than 175,000 West Virginians who signed up for Medicaid under expansion stand to lose coverage if the law is repealed. Another approximately 35,000 state residents could lose the plan they bought on the health insurance marketplace.
Since the enactment of the Affordable Care Act in 2010, West Virginia’s uninsured rate has fallen by 57 percent, according to WVAHC.
Renate Pore, interim director of the group, said repealing the law would kill the goal of every West Virginian having access to quality health care coverage.
“Now that goal slipped beyond the horizon and we face not further progress but an unraveling of all that has been achieved,” Pore said. “This is unacceptable. We cannot let it happen.”
Health insurance and access to care is not just an individual benefit but a social benefit, she said.
Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act has been the state’s best tool in treating drug abuse problems in the state, Pore said.
The repeal would also have an economic effect. It would mean 16,000 fewer jobs in West Virginia by 2019, Pore said, citing a January report from the Commonwealth Fund.
“We are now on the slippery slope of repeal,” Pore said. “What comes after repeal? Well, who the heck knows? The majority party promises to replace it with something better, but no one really knows what it means.”
Besides West Virginians for Affordable Health Care, representatives of the West Virginia Nurses Association, Roane General Hospital, the West Virginia Council of Churches and WV Citizens Action Group as well as a physician with Cabin Creek Health Systems and private citizens who stand to lose coverage spoke in support of keeping the Affordable Care Act.
While Pore applauded the effects of the Affordable Care Act, she admitted the law has its problems. The goal of the law was to drive down the cost of health care spending, but it hasn’t done that for many in the private sector, she said.
“That’s where the problem that needs to be fixed is,” Pore said. “Unless you’re poor enough for Medicaid or get financial assistance on the marketplace, if you’re a middle-class person that has to buy a policy, it is a very, very high price.”
The reason for the high costs are the country’s high prescription drug prices, she said.
It’s time for Republicans to govern and stop grandstanding, she said.
Pore thanked Sen. Joe Manchin for voting against the repeal. Manchin has argued for fixing the law instead of repealing it completely, saying he would not vote to repeal the law without first seeing what Republicans aimed to replace it with.
Pore also appealed to Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, who voted in favor of the repeal, to reconsider her position. She encouraged those in attendance to contact Capito to do the same.
“We have to keep this pressure on her,” Pore said.
Mary Ann Claytor, a St. Albans resident who ran for state auditor last year, also spoke in support of keeping the Affordable Care Act. Claytor’s son, Cedric, developed a rare disease at age 20. The disease caused blood clots that damaged his liver, she said.
“I didn’t realize that I had this fine print in our [insurance] policy that I had a million dollar maximum lifetime benefits [limit],” Claytor said. “So, once he met the million dollars, he would have been taken off.”
As Claytor and her family waited for Cedric to receive a liver transplant, the insurance company continued to send reminders that they were reaching the limit on their benefits.
“How would you imagine that you are worried about whether your child is going to live or your child is going to die and you are getting these letters from the insurance company keeping you on a countdown, just counting down the time,” she said.
The Affordable Care Act put an end to lifetime benefit caps and requires companies to offer health insurance to people even if they have pre-existing health conditions that make their care costly.
But Claytor worries that if the law is repealed, her insurance company might reinstate the limits. Her son, who is now paralyzed and requires her help full time, acquired a second rare disease, she said. He’s reached more than $1 million in insurance benefits. Would another insurance company cover him with his pre-existing health conditions?
“I urge our representatives to look in their own children’s faces and to imagine they’re in this situation,” Claytor said.