By IAN HICKS
The Intelligence and Wheeling News-Register
WHEELING, W.Va. — Among the first orders of business for a new Ohio Valley group that’s formed to oppose President Donald Trump’s administration and its policies was rallying against plans to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.
Members of the group — Marchers Ohio Valley Empowered, or M.O.V.E. — met for a planning session at the Wheeling YWCA Tuesday and discussed vision and mission statements as well as plans for future events. They also invited Bill Bryant, a St. Clairsville resident and former college professor, to speak to them about the potential impact of overhauling the national health care law.
House Republicans unveiled their plan to do just that on Monday, but the proposal quickly drew sharp criticism from several GOP senators, including Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia and Rob Portman of Ohio.
Bryant said in his view, the Affordable Care Act has been a success, reducing the number of uninsured Americans from about 50 million before passage of the law to about 29 million today. It also gave many people the freedom to leave jobs with large employers that had provided their only means to ensure coverage and pursue starting their own business, or staying home to raise their children, he said.
According to Bryant, the House plan preserves some of the more popular elements of the Affordable Care Act — including coverage for pre-existing health conditions and allowing adult children to remain on their parents’ insurance plans until age 26. It also would keep the federal funding plan for Medicaid expansion intact through the beginning of 2020.
However, Bryant said the House plan would scrap the mandates that all Americans buy health insurance, and that those plans meet a minimum standard of coverage — elements he said ensure the money is available to provide people with severe, chronic illnesses affordable care.
The replacement plan also widens the gap between what insurance companies can charge a younger person and an older person for the same policy, according to Bryant.
“If the ACA is repealed, people in their 50s or 60s could see premiums go up $2,000 to $3,000 per year or more,” he said.
Without the individual mandate, Bryant said, younger, healthier Americans either won’t buy coverage — increasing the burden on those with severe health problems — or will opt for what he called “junk insurance” plans that don’t meet the Affordable Care Act’s standards.
“You can go out and buy yourself a policy, but don’t get sick. Don’t get hurt,” Bryant said of such low-cost, low-benefit plans.
Bryant also criticized the House plan’s emphasis on “health savings accounts” — which are tax-deductible and are allowed to grow tax-free. He said it’s one of the ways the replacement plan favors wealthier Americans over those with lower incomes.
“Poor and moderate-income folks don’t make enough money to put into HSAs,” Bryant said. “They really are a tax shelter for the rich, and they love them.”
Bryant believes much of the criticism of the Affordable Care Act is driven by its popular nickname of “Obamacare,” particularly in places where former President Barack Obama is unpopular. He cited a national poll conducted by Morning Consult which found that one in three Americans don’t know that Obamacare and the Affordable Care Act are one and the same.
“They say it’s OK to repeal Obamacare, but don’t touch my Affordable Care Act,” Bryant said.
Bryant acknowledged that high deductibles have been a “legitimate concern” under the Affordable Care Act, but said this could be remedied by offering more generous subsidies. He said this is something the government should be able to afford given Trump’s plan to increase defense spending by $84 billion over the next two years.
“You can’t make the case that our military is weak. That is utter nonsense,” Bryant said, noting the United States spends more money on defense than the next seven highest-spending countries combined.
Martha Polinsky, chairwoman of M.O.V.E., said she and her daughter were inspired to start a local chapter after attending the Jan. 21 Women’s March on Washington. She said they started a Facebook group to gauge interest on the ride home from the nation’s capital.
“We wanted to bring the voice of strong women back to the valley,”Polinsky said.
Mary Delozier, West Virginia chairwoman of M.O.V.E., said the group was “pleasantly surprised” by Capito’s and Portman’s stance on the repeal and replacement legislation. Jennifer Prillo, Ohio chairwoman of the group, added they don’t yet know what the impact of the House plan on black lung benefits for coal miners will be, and that’s something that concerns them.
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