The U.S. Supreme Court has announced that it will hear arguments on Nov. 10 in the case Texas v. California that seeks to invalidate the Affordable Care Act, a law that provides health coverage to more than 200,000 West Virginians.
West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey has joined that lawsuit on the side seeking to eliminate the ACA.
On Sept. 14, more than 35 West Virginia physicians called on Mr. Morrisey to withdraw from Texas v. California. More than 50 state physicians have now signed that letter. As health care providers, we pointed out the irreparable harm the lawsuit, if successful, would do to the health and economic well-being of West Virginians. And we asked Mr. Morrisey to address these concerns.
We asked Mr. Morrisey if there is a plan to provide medical coverage for the West Virginians whose coverage depends upon the Affordable Care Act. The ACA also prohibits insurance companies from denying coverage for preexisting conditions or denying coverage altogether because of preexisting conditions. This provision is crucial for West Virginians affected by the epidemics of diabetes, lung disease, heart disease and addiction.
If the Supreme Court declares the Affordable Care Act unconstitutional, will West Virginia pick up the tab for the thousands who suddenly find themselves without health coverage?
What about mitigating the effects on West Virginia physician practices, hospitals, rural clinics and academic medical centers that no longer will receive payment for services rendered to patients who lose their coverage?
And what if a Supreme Court decision eliminates other health care protections of the ACA, such as the provision that closes the Medicare gap in prescription drug coverage; the provision that prohibits insurance companies from raising premiums; or the provision that creates a fairer process for coal miners with lung disease (and their widows) to show that they are eligible for black lung benefits?
Finally, there is the effect that elimination of the Affordable Care Act would have on West Virginia’s economy. The nonpartisan Commonwealth Fund projects that ending the ACA will cost West Virginia 16,000 jobs, $9.1 billion in lost economic output and $438 million in state and local revenue. Did the attorney general take the economic costs into account before joining Texas v. California?
Mr. Morrisey did not respond directly to our letter. Rather, his press aide issued a statement that ignored most of the issues we raised, other than to say Mr. Morrisey “remains deeply committed to ensuring health care coverage for those with preexisting conditions.”
Unfortunately, there is essentially nothing the state of West Virginia can do to require insurance companies to cover preexisting conditions, because federal law preempts state regulation of most employer-based plans.
Maintaining the health of West Virginians is our life’s work. As the COVID-19 pandemic has increased the demands on health professionals and added to the challenges our patients face in their daily lives, the health coverage that so many of our patients enjoy under the ACA has been a godsend. To those of us battling the COVID-19 crisis, Morrisey’s decision to attack the ACA is inexplicable.
This much is clear, sometime after the Nov. 3 election, the Supreme Court will again decide the fate of the ACA, after having upheld it in 2017. Of course, the composition of the court has changed since then. It is hard to understand why an elected official like Patrick Morrisey would not be doing everything he could to protect the health coverage of West Virginians, rather than joining the effort to kill the ACA.