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Advocates worried health programs will pay for tax cuts


Charleston Gazette-Mail

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Several advocacy groups said Tuesday they worried a Republican plan to alter the country’s tax code and cut taxes for corporations would be paid for by cutting health care programs heavily relied upon in West Virginia.

The West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy, West Virginia Citizen Action Group and West Virginians for Affordable Health Care — all left-leaning groups — and others held a news conference Tuesday morning at Covenant House in Charleston.

Gary Zuckett, of West Virginian Citizen Action Group, pointed to an unsigned check, and said he was concerned the $1.4 trillion the bill adds to the federal deficit over 10 years would be paid for by cuts to Medicare, Medicaid, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and the Children’s Health Insurance Program. Congress has not reauthorized CHIP, which insures 9 million children nationwide, since funding expired Sept. 30. West Virginia’s CHIP program, which covers 21,000 children, will shut down in February if funding isn’t allocated.

“We are sending a message to our Congressional representatives of both parties not to sign this check,” Zuckett said.

Medicare covered 23 percent of West Virginians — about 416,000 people — in 2015, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. That was more than any other state except Maine, where 23 percent of residents were also covered by the program for seniors. The West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources said over the summer that almost 30 percent of the state’s residents — about 519,000 people — were covered by Medicaid, sometimes informally referred to by health care providers as a “medical card.”

The Joint Committee on Taxation, a Congressional committee made up of economists, attorneys and accountants, estimated last week the bill, championed by President Trump and Republican leaders, would reduce revenue by $1.4 trillion over 10 years.

“That means we’re either going to grow our deficit or we’re going to force spending cuts to vital investments like health care, education and job training,” said Caitlin Cook, spokeswoman for the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy. “These tax cuts are not paid for up front. That means low- and middle-income Americans are going to be footing the bill for the permanent changes to the corporate tax code.

“West Virginia’s Congressional delegation should be working to advance tax policies that actually invest in our working families while ensuring that tax cuts are paid for by closing loopholes and other responsible measures,” Cook said.

Chantal Fields, executive director of West Virginians for Affordable Health Care, said, “There’s no question Medicaid will be in the crosshairs when Congress goes hunting for those spending cuts.”

Fields also noted that the Senate had removed the individual mandate to buy health insurance in its version of the bill.

“Without this provision, what happens is that people who are young and healthy don’t buy insurance. They wait until they get good and sick before they go buy insurance, leaving all of the sick and elderly in an insurance pool, and everybody’s premiums go up because of that.”

The Kaiser Family Foundation estimated in 2015 that 36 percent of West Virginians — about 392,000 people — had pre-existing conditions, more than any other state.

The bill cuts the corporate tax rate from 35 to 20 percent. While low-income families would at first see tax cuts, they would later see increases, according to the Joint Committee on Taxation.

Christine Campbell, of the American Federation of Teachers-West Virginia, asked, “When will it be enough?”

“Will it be enough when everyone except the billionaires are living in poverty?” she said. “Politics isn’t a game to be won while hard-working families struggle to survive.”

West Virginia’s three representatives in the House — David McKinley, Alex Mooney and Evan Jenkins, all Republicans — all voted in favor of the tax plan.

Representatives of Cabin Creek Health Systems, the University of Charleston, the NAACP, the AFL-CIO and West Virginia Council of Churches also spoke against the bill.

Reach Erin Beck at [email protected], 304-348-5163, or follow @erinbeckwv on Twitter.

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