By Crystal Good
WV Press Association Report
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Senate Bill 284 is before the West Virginia Senate on Friday for a second reading. The bill outlines a West Virginia Patient Protection Program that would cover high-risk medical conditions if the Affordable Health Care Act (ACA) overturned.
The bill would be open for debate today.
On Tuesday, while the bill was before the Senate Health and Human Resources Committee, West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey spoke in favor of the legislation and encouraged it’s passage to the full Senate.
“The bill helps West Virginia get out in front of the pending litigation,” Morrisey said. “Pre existing conditions need to be afforded strong protections under the law. You don’t need to have the ACA.”
SB 284 seeks to establish a high-risk medical conditions patient pool that would keep an insurance provider from denying coverage based on a pre-existing condition. The current ACA includes protections for people with pre-existing conditions. The protection only would take effect if the ACA is overturned in federal court.
The bill is sponsored by Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson; and Senators Sue Cline, R-Wyoming; Mark Maynard, R-Wayne; and Mike Maroney, R-Marshall.
Morrissey joined the Texas vs. USA lawsuit that claims the ACA’s individual mandate penalizes Americans for not purchasing health insurance is unconstitutional. Congress zeroed out the individual tax penalty in 2017. The case is in appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court arguing that with a zero tax penalty, the individual mandate is no longer constitutional and the entire law should be invalidated. If successful there would no longer be a guarantee that people with preexisting conditions could get insurance on their own.
Senate committee counsel explained that the bill provides payment to health insurance issuers for claims for health care services to eligible individuals with expected high healthcare costs and protects West Virginians with pre-existing conditions if ACA is nullified.
Senator Corey Palumbo, D-Kanawha, was most vocal in committee.
“The States lawsuit is bad. It will hurt the people of our state. The bill looks like a bad substitute if the ACA is gone,” Palumbo said.
Palumbo questioned the committee: “If we are going to be stuck with something other than the Affordable Care Act, are we better off starting from scratch or do we need this legislation?”
Palumbo asked counsel to confirm that there is no money that comes with the bill and asked if the Attorney General’s lawsuit was successful how much money would be needed to insure the vulnerable populations.
Senate counsel confirmed there is no money attached to the bill, explaining and that costs would be decided in rules after an accuracy analysis.
Deputy Assistant Attorney General Thomas Flentemt testified to the committee in support of the bill.
Other testimony came from representatives from the The West Virginia Center for Budget and Policy and The Hospital Association.
Kelly Allen with WVCBP spoke against the bill. She said, “We need to be clear about who this bill can impact.”
Allen said the prospective risk pools or reinsurance funds as described in the bill are not being pursued in most states, excluding Louisiana, that are passing pre-existing state level protections.
She said the only example of pre-existing protections in action prior to the ACA was in Maine where, due to a lack of adequate funding, the effort has not been successful.
She asked the Committee to consider the bills language stating insurers can use “alternatives” to address adverse selection. She said this language could suggest a far more restrictive market for people who have pre-existing conditions, those who have been uninsured or had gaps in coverage.
Allen said the bill provides loopholes for insurers to deny people with pre-existing conditions and the bill mandates a, “re-insurance fund without reassurance.”
A spokeman for the Hospital Association said it is dealing with unknowns if the ACA goes away, noting that Fairmont Hospital just announced its closing and offered concerns for the high risk funding pool. “We are not in a place to be a part of that funding pool.”
Senator Ron Stollings, D-Boone, asked, “If this suit is successful, will we lose?”
The Hospital Association said, “It will depend on what is included in the suit.”
Senator Tom Takubo, R- Kanawha, said, “ We’re all one step away from a pre-existing condition.” He spoke in support of the bill, “If it (ACA) does go away. It will be nice to have the good provisions of the act in place.”
Com Sub 284 was recommended to the Senate floor and had a first reading on Thursday.