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West Virginia Senators Manchin, Capito expect changes to health bill


The Intelligencer and Wheeling News-Register

WHEELING, W.Va.  — Sens. Joe Manchin and Shelley Moore Capito agree any health care plan passed by Congress must require insurance providers to cover the pre-existing conditions of their clients.

U.S. Sens. Shelley Capito and Joe Manchin
However, the two West Virginia senators — Manchin, a Democrat, and Capito, a Republican — disagree on whether the existing Affordable Care Act needs to be repealed or just amended.

Last week, the House passed its version of a bill to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act — also known as “Obamacare” — and now the measure is before the Senate.

“We’re going to start from scratch,” Capito said. “I’ve been in several meetings … and we are working to make sure we fix what isn’t working. Obamacare is not working, and it needs to be replaced or repaired.”

Manchin agrees the Affordable Care Act needs repair, but he stops short of believing new legislation is needed in the Senate.

“I haven’t talked to a Democrat or Republican yet that doesn’t think it needs repaired,”he said. “We just need to get in there and repair the parts.”

Members of Congress typically concur on key components contained in the Affordable Care Act — such that pre-existing conditions must be covered, and that young adults should be permitted to remain on their parents’ insurance until age 26, according to Manchin.

“If we agree on all those things, why should we start over?” he asked.

But he acknowledged the escalating price for health insurance coverage under the Affordable Care Act does need to be addressed.

“I don’t know of any 26-year-old who bought the government policy after they went off their parents’ plan,” he said. “It’s too expensive.”

Costs for Americans insured under the Affordable Care Act have gone up because of limited choices within the system, according to Capito. Premiums have increased at a rate of 30 percent a year, and deductible costs also have been rising. Because they can no longer afford health care, many are no longer accessing the system and going without medical coverage.

She said this concerns her, and costs must be addressed by any legislation crafted in the Senate.

Capito estimates in West Virginia, about 34,000 residents receive health insurance through the Affordable Care Act exchange. In addition, Medicaid expansion in West Virginia also has brought 180,000 new enrollees into the state system.

“We don’t want to just drop them off with no place to go,” she said. “We want to make sure they have a place to go. We need to make it clear to them they will keep their coverage, and that it will be not just accessible, but affordable.”

And any legislation achieved must include the provision that Americans won’t be denied insurance coverage because of pre-existing conditions, and the House version of the health care bill “creates questions” on this issue, she said. The House bill would allow states to petition for waivers to the pre-existing condition rule.

“What I’ve learned from speaking with people is that health care is extremely personal,”Capito said. “It’s not about political victories or political defeats. It’s about listening to people and delivering. We have to do the right thing here and make sure we do the right thing.”

Manchin said major cuts to Medicaid in the House bill need to be eliminated by the Senate, and that coverage of pre-existing conditions must be clarified and made mandatory. He is concerned the bill, as written, would raise costs for older and sicker West Virginians.

He noted the House’s health care bill was never scored by the Congressional Budget Office, a move that would tell lawmakers how much the legislation will cost taxpayers. Those numbers won’t be available for at least two weeks.

“It shouldn’t have been rushed through the way it was,” Manchin said.

Capito said the goal of Senate Republicans is to have a bill passed in the coming weeks before the nation’s insurance providers set rates for 2018, but Manchin is skeptical this can be achieved.

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