By WARREN SCOTT
The Weirton Daily Times
FOLLANSBEE, W.Va. — Healthcare reform and federal funding for local projects were among issues discussed by U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., as she met with local officials, business leaders and residents at The Daily Perk coffee shop and the Follansbee City Building on Wednesday.
City Manager John DeStefano told Capito rising healthcare costs are a major concern, with the deductible for city employees rising from $500 per person to $3,000 per person and a potential for it to rise again to $7,500.
Capito said she voted 57 times to repeal the Affordable Care Act but with that battle seemingly lost, will work to fix problems created by it.
“Those in (healthcare) exchanges are paying very high deductibles if they’re even buying insurance,” she said, adding Congress must find a way to address that issue without harming those who have benefited from the act.
Capito said in response, she co-sponsored the Patient Freedom Act bill, which would allow states to keep the Affordable Care Act or offer their own alternative.
If approved, the act would encourage greater use of health savings accounts and eliminate the requirement of having health insurance or paying a tax penalty. It would keep such Obamacare features as prohibiting exclusion from coverage because of pre-existing conditions and allowing coverage of dependents up to 26 years old.
Capito said a major healthcare expense has arisen from the increase in opioid addiction in West Virginia, Ohio and elsewhere. She noted under the previous administration, she supported the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act and 21st Century Cures Act aimed at making drug abuse treatment more accessible, with the latter also supporting research into Alzheimer’s disease and other brain diseases.
Mayor David Velegol Jr. asked about funding for infrastructure, particularly aging water treatment systems.
Capito said President Donald Trump has expressed great interest in infrastructure, including a desire to improve the nation’s airports. But she said the president has suggested public partnerships with private entities may be a major catalyst for such projects, and she’s not sure such arrangements will be available to smaller communities.
Still, she encouraged local officials to bring shovel-ready projects to the attention of the governor’s office, the usual conduit for such funding in the past, and to her and her colleagues in the West Virginia delegation to Congress.
Capito also acknowledged the Trump administration made cuts to several funding sources that are vital to the Mountain State. Among them are the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Small Cities Block Grant program, which has funded street paving and other services in Weirton; the federal Environmental Protection Agency’s brownfield program, which has supported revitalization of the former Wheeling Corrugating plant; and the Appalachian Regional Commission, a major source of funding for the Brooke-Hancock-Jefferson Metropolitan Planning Commission.
A member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Capito said she and others “are going to fight back. I’m all for shrinking government, but they’re going to have to find other places to cut.”
First Ward Councilman Vito “Skip” Cutrone asked Capito if she’s concerned about the situation with North Korea escalating.
Capito said the U.S. will involve other Asian nations before it acts against the North Korean government led by Kim Jong-Un.
“We’ve got to work with folks in the neighborhood — South Korea, China, Japan,” she said.
But she said Jong-Un’s show of military force in recent months is a cause for concern.
“We’ve got to figure a way to stop this guy,” Capito said.
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