Manchin should oppose public option

Some lawmakers in Washington continue to advocate for risky, unaffordable health care proposals that could weaken rather than strengthen access to care, particularly for some of West Virginia’s most vulnerable residents, including seniors and rural communities. Proposals to impose a public option, for example, will have serious, negative impact on West Virginia’s health care landscape.

A public option would drastically reduce reimbursement rates to insurance providers, negatively impacting physicians and hospitals across the state. Sadly, the most impacted health care facilities would be the ones serving West Virginia’s many rural communities, where access to quality care is already scarce enough as it is.

The fact is many rural hospitals and health care providers are already operating on razor-thin margins and with extremely limited resources. A public option could exacerbate these issues, forcing rural hospitals to scale back their services, reduce staff, or even shut their doors entirely.

According to one recent study, a public option approach to health care would put one in four rural hospitals nationwide at an “increased risk of financial distress.” For many folks, these facilities are their closest and potentially only connection to health care. That same study found that 90 percent of the rural hospitals that would be put in greater financial jeopardy are the only hospital in the county. Shutting them down would force vulnerable West Virginians to drive even further and endure even longer waiting times, all to access a potentially reduced quality of care.

On top of that, rural hospitals are also often the largest source of jobs and economic stimulus in rural communities. Putting them at risk to impose a government-controlled health care system that will result in diminished access for those who need it most is a foolish endeavor that Congress should not pursue.

I have been grateful to see Senator Manchin oppose similar government-run health care proposal like Medicare expansion. The Senator should firmly oppose the formation of a public option as well in order to protect access to quality care for West Virginia’s seniors and rural communities throughout the state and nationwide.

Del. Steve Westfall



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