By JAKE ZUCKERMAN
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — All three of West Virginia’s congressional representatives, all Republicans, voted to revise the Affordable Care Act, joining a narrow majority Thursday.
The GOP-backed legislation, the American Health Care Act, will roll back required patient protections for health care providers. It passed 217-213, and will go on to the Senate and, pending passage there, to the president.
The vote’s passage was accompanied by a raucous rendition of the ballpark classic, “Na na na na, hey, hey, hey, goodbye,” from representatives on the House floor.
The repeal, if made into law, could leave more than 200,000 West Virginians without health care.
Different iterations of the bill have come and gone, working as a balancing act between placating the far-right members of the Republican Party without alienating any moderates.
The repeal and replacement of the ACA, also known as Obamacare, has been a canon of Republican orthodoxy for nearly a decade, and a central campaign promise of President Donald Trump.
Following the vote, members of the West Virginia delegation offered statements on the bill’s passage.
From the First District, Rep. David McKinley said he’s excited to see the legislative process continue.
“Today, the House took an important step towards keeping our promise to reform health care,” he said. “Everyone deserves access to affordable, quality health care coverage, and that is everything we are trying to deliver.”
From the Second District, Rep. Alex Mooney, a member of the House Freedom Caucus said Obamacare is collapsing and that the AHCA will use market solutions to increase care and lower premiums.
“The American Health Care Act will get government out of the way and put patients back in charge of their health care decisions,” he said. “I will continue to fight for quality and affordable health care for all West Virginians.”
Roughly an hour and a half before the vote, a spokesman for Mooney said the congressman was still reviewing the bill and its amendments and had not yet made up his mind.
The rapid-fire resuscitation of the bill and its quick path through the House raised questions about whether the public — or even legislators — had enough time to read the 126-page bill with its constant changes. The final legislative language was only released midway through the week.
“I strongly support coverage for pre-existing conditions, mental health care and substance abuse treatment,” he said. “Each state would have more flexibility to meet their unique needs. Under this legislation, West Virginia would have choice about what will work best for us, and we must make sure the most vulnerable are protected.”
Despite his words, much of the criticism surrounding the AHCA focuses on its reported lack of protection for those with pre-existing conditions if their states opt out and for those seeking substance abuse treatment.
The carve outs for states only will occur if they choose to opt out. Grant Herring, press secretary for Gov. Jim Justice, said the governor has not yet formed a policy one way or another.
“The Governor and his team will review the specifics if it becomes law,” he said. “The last thing Governor Justice wants to do is hurt the most vulnerable people.”
Twenty Republicans voted against the House proposal, along with every Democrat.
Progressive groups based in West Virginia issued several releases critical of the bill. Ted Boettner, director of the West Virginia Center for Budget & Policy, issued a letter Thursday afternoon, saying the bill will hurt West Virginians who will face higher premiums because of their pre-existing conditions.
“This is a sad and troubling day for the hundreds of thousands of West Virginians with pre-existing conditions that need access to affordable and adequate health coverage,” he said. “West Virginia has benefited enormously from the Affordable Care Act, both economically and through improved health coverage, and the new bill turns back the clock on the expanded health coverage through Medicaid and market protections that the ACA has brought to West Virginia.”
Likewise, Leslie Dach, director of the Alliance for Health Care Security, cited figures provided on an earlier iteration of the bill from the Congressional Budget Office, a nonpartisan scorekeeper for the government.
“The bill will cut coverage for 24 million people, raise premiums by 20 percent, ration care under Medicaid, and effectively eliminate Medicaid expansion,” she said. “The bill particularly targets health care services important for women — it eliminates the requirement that plans cover maternity and newborn care or access to preventative and contraceptive care, and it defunds Planned Parenthood.”
New figures on the latest version of the bill are not yet available, as the CBO has not had enough time to analyze it with its myriad changes.
The state Democratic Party went a step further, not just criticizing the bill, but calling out Mooney, Jenkins and McKinley and threatening the safety of their seats in the coming election.
“McKinley, Jenkins and Mooney are all on notice,” the statement reads. “By voting to take affordable health care away from millions of Americans — including West Virginians — to pay for tax cuts for the rich, they signed their own pink slip. This depraved bill … hurts older West Virginians, women, West Virginians with pre-existing conditions, West Virginians with employer-based health care, and even children with disabilities. Families in West Virginia deserve a member of Congress who prioritizes their health care needs, and come 2018, they’ll get one.”
This story was updated at 5:50 p.m. to include comments from the Governor’s office.
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