Democrats criticize attorney general proposal to protect pre-existing conditions
CHARLESTON — A plan from Republican state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey to protect people with pre-existing medical conditions if the Affordable Care Act is overturned is drawing fire from legislative Democrats and candidates seeking to unseat Morrisey in November.
Senate Bill 284, introduced Friday with Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, as the lead sponsor, would make sure health insurance plans in West Virginia cannot be denied on the basis of a pre-existing medical condition. It’s based on a similar law signed into law in Louisiana last year.
The bill, also called the West Virginia Healthcare Continuity Act, would only go into effect if and when the federal courts rule against all or part of the Affordable Care Act.
Democratic lawmakers led by Sen. Richard Lindsay, D-Kanawha, and Delegate Shawn Fluharty, D-Ohio, held a press conference Monday morning to denounce the Healthcare Continuity Act and to announce a new proposal to protect coverage for people with pre-existing conditions.
They said Morrisey is simply trying to whitewash his attempts to dismantle the Affordable Care Act going into the 2020 elections.
“Our Attorney General Patrick Morrisey came out with his so-called 11th hour plan to preserve and protect pre-existing conditions while simultaneously attacking those protections in the court (in his role) of our attorney general,” Fluharty said. “Politics got us into this mess and it’s going to take real representation to get us out of this mess.”
“This bill does not put West Virginia’s first and more importantly, it does not restore the health in our communities,” Lindsay said. “This is not the right policy. It’s wrongheaded for West Virginians and it does not put them first.”
Fluharty and Lindsay said the proposal floated by Morrisey and Republicans in the Legislature puts people with pre-existing conditions into a high-risk pool, which could include higher premiums and deductibles, as well as longer waiting periods for service. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, more than 382,000 non-elderly West Virginians, 37 percent, have pre-existing conditions.
The bill from Democratic lawmakers, which has yet to be introduced, also will protect people with pre-existing conditions, but do so in a way that doesn’t raise premiums.
“The most important thing that our bill does is it continues the promise of the Affordable Care Act and that simply is protecting those individuals with pre-existing conditions without an increase in premiums and without putting them in a high-risk pool that would nonetheless increase their premiums,” Lindsay said. “That’s the most important difference between our bill and their bill. Our bill protects West Virginians.”
Sam Petsonk, a Beckley-based attorney and a Democratic candidate for attorney general, said in an interview on Saturday that even with the West Virginia Healthcare Continuity Act, it still doesn’t protect people on Medicaid, recipients of Black Lung benefits or substance-abuse victims receiving treatment.
“Patrick Morrissey’s lawsuit to repeal the ACA would eliminate healthcare coverage for hundreds of thousands of West Virginia,” Petsonk said. “It’s irresponsible, it’s really reckless and this bill would not change that problem. It’s simply inaccurate to tell the people in West Virginia that this bill will save health insurance for the vast majority of us who would lose it if Patrick Morrisey succeeds with his lawsuit.”
Petsonk, who faces Delegate Isaac Sponaugle, D-Pendleton, in the May 12 primary for attorney general, pointed out a provision in SB 284 that would also cap the cost sharing limit for self-coverage at $8,150 and family coverage at $16,300.
“Show me the West Virginia family that can afford to pay $16,300 a year for health insurance. It’s a slap in the face to our people and the idea that the state of West Virginia can come in and subsidize those costs is completely unimaginative,” Petsonk said. “We do not have hundreds of millions of dollars in spare change and in our budget to provide the kinds of subsidies that the federal government can provide.”
Morrisey is among 18 Republican state attorneys general led by Texas who filed suit against the Affordable Care Act after Congress eliminated the individual mandate penalty for not having health insurance.
As it stands now, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans ruled in December that the individual mandate is unconstitutional, but sent the case back to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas, who previously ruled that the entire Affordable Care Act was unconstitutional. It is expected that the case will end up at the U.S. Supreme Court later this year.
“Patrick Morrissey’s philosophy is fundamentally flawed when he believes that individual states can stand in the shoes of the federal government on an issue of national economics like health care,” Petsonk said. “The states are fundamentally unable to achieve the efficiencies and the coverage that the federal government can achieve on such a national economic map. He’s fundamentally flawed in his belief.”
Morrisey, seeking a third term as attorney general, announced the West Virginia Healthcare Continuity Act in a press conference Jan. 7 surrounded by Republican members of the Legislature. Gov. Jim Justice also praised Morrisey’s proposal during his State of the State address Jan. 8.
In a statement released Monday, Morrisey said while he stands by the case against Affordable Care Act, which he said is driving up health care premiums for families, he is dedicated to making sure people with pre-existing conditions are protected.
“No one has lost any protections because of the lawsuit,” Morrisey said. “This act is designed to help West Virginians and is modeled after bipartisan, bicameral legislation which was enacted in Louisiana with a Republican legislature and a Democratic governor. Our approach ensures that we eliminate the unconstitutional individual mandate of Obamacare and take steps to address skyrocketing premiums, while protecting those with pre-existing conditions. This shouldn’t be about politics.”