By MICHAEL ERB
The Parkersburg News and Sentinel
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — State leaders and insurance providers are as yet unsure what President Donald Trump’s executive order on the federal Affordable Care Act might mean for West Virginia.
On Friday, Trump signed an executive order giving agencies leeway in enforcing some of the ACA’s requirements. The president still needs Congress to vote to repeal the law to remove it, but most agree the executive order is a way for Trump to indicate his intent to repeal and replace the health care law built by his predecessor President Barack Obama, something Trump promised in his campaign for office.
Butch Antolini, spokesman for West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice, said officials are waiting to learn what, if anything, may change in the coming days.
“The executive order has been entered by President Trump and we are waiting to see the details,” Antolini said. “Everyone is interested in finding out exactly what this means.”
Allison Addler, spokeswoman for the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources, said 174,026 West Virginian are enrolled in the Medicaid Expansion, which is part of the ACA.
In an emailed statement, Bill J. Crouch, cabinet secretary of the state Department of Health and Human Resources, said the Medicaid Expansion has been of great benefit to numerous people and has saved lives.
“Medicaid Expansion has improved the lives of thousands of hard working West Virginians,” he said. “The vast majority of these individuals are working West Virginians and some have multiple jobs. The financial and physical crisis created if these families lose health insurance is our number one concern.”
Crouch also said there was an enormous economic benefit to the state health care infrastructure.
“Hundreds of millions of dollars flow into the state’s health care system as a result of health care services provided to Medicaid Expansion recipients,” he said in the release.
“If Medicaid Expansion were repealed without an adequate replacement, large parts of the state’s health care infrastructure, including many of our small, rural hospitals, would be at significant risk of collapse.”
Crouch said should residents lose that coverage, many will be unable to afford treatment for life-threatening health issues.
“There are thousands of stories where West Virginians who were previously uninsured utilized their coverage to discover that they were in the early stages of a chronic disease, or were able to treat a known condition that they were forced to ignore because of lack of health insurance,” he said. “If these West Virginians lost their health insurance, it would be devastating for their families, the state’s workforce who depends on this insurance, and ultimately, the state’s economy.”
On Monday, U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., teamed with other senators in announcing the Patient Freedom Act of 2017, a comprehensive replacement plan for the ACA. In a press release, Capito cited the need for a replacement to be in place for the repeal of Obamacare.
“There needs to be a replacement for Obamacare that provides access to affordable, quality health care, including to those West Virginians currently receiving coverage through the exchange or Medicaid expansion,” she said. “The Patient Freedom Act of 2017 accomplishes this by reducing Obamacare regulations that have caused health insurance premiums to sky rocket, returning authority to states, and providing more health care choices to individuals and families. It also keeps important protections such as coverage for pre-existing conditions, allowing dependent coverage through age 26, and retaining improvements to the federal Black Lung benefits program, which is especially important in West Virginia.”
Kristy Cramlet, spokeswoman for Highmark Health, one of two insurance providers on the West Virginia exchange through ACA, said in a statement Monday they are “working with federal and state lawmakers to ensure that an alternative solution leads to a competitive, private health insurance market that works for people, giving them peace of mind at a price they can afford.”
Cramlet said officials are hoping to see improvements to the individual market to prevent abuse.
“Under current rules, too many people are allowed to purchase coverage only when they get sick and then drop it after they receive care,” she said. ” No other type of insurance works this way — People can’t purchase property insurance while the house is burning then cancel it after rebuilding. This is driving up premiums for everyone and is not fair to those who stay covered continuously and pay their premiums year-round.”
Cramlet said a new system should provide more health insurance options for consumers, help hold down costs and avoid actions which would lead to significant premium increases in 2018, and ensure access to care while addressing underlying reasons for increased premiums, such as medical and prescription drug costs.
Officials with CareSource, the other major insurance provider through West Virginia’s exchange, were contacted Monday but were unable to provide a statement before press time.
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