CHARLESTON – Democratic state lawmakers, U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin and others are criticizing Attorney General Patrick Morrisey’s proposal to protect West Virginia residents with preexisting health conditions.
Morrisey, however, stands by the bill called the West Virginia Healthcare Continuity Act. He, along with state Senate President Mitch Carmichael and other Republican lawmakers, unveiled the plan at a Jan. 7 press conference.
Then, Morrisey said the measure would ensure those with preexisting conditions do not lose their ability to buy health insurance as the federal courts consider a challenge to the constitutionality of Obamacare.
According to Morrisey's office, the legislation would impose a general ban on restricting enrollment in healthcare coverage based on a preexisting condition. It covers 10 categories of health services, while also mitigating the risk faced by insurers with open enrollment and affiliation periods.
On Jan. 13, Democrats from the state Senate and the House of Delegates said Morrisey is misrepresenting his bill. They say it would establish a “risk-sharing program which would pay health insurance providers for providing service to people expected to have high healthcare costs.” The Democrats say these “high-risk pools” often mean high premiums, steep deductibles, long waiting periods and lifetime benefit limits.
Unlike the Republican plan, the Democrats say their bills would make sure insurance companies would be required to cover those with preexisting conditions.
“Recent reports from the state Attorney General, Patrick Morrissey, have intentionally misrepresented legislation that he’s authored,” state Senator Richard Lindsay (D-Kanawha) said. “The Attorney General is using the good name of our state to try to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, which ensures coverage for pre-existing conditions, while at the same time introducing legislation what will make healthcare coverage five times more expensive for people with those conditions.”
The Democratic lawmakers said 37 percent of non-elderly West Virginians have preexisting conditions. Of those 382,000 citizens, 90,000 of them are children.
Delegate Shawn Fluharty criticized Morrisey’s plan and the AG himself.
"Attorney General Patrick Morrisey is a con artist,” Fluharty (D-Ohio) said. “He is purposely tricking the public into thinking he supports protections for pre-existing conditions while at the same time literally going to court to strip away all protections.
"He's not putting West Virginia families first, he's only putting his political aspirations first and West Virginians see through his charade.”
Democrats urged Gov. Jim Justice to take executive action by telling Morrisey to withdraw from the federal lawsuit seeking to overturn the 2017 Affordable Care Act, which some people call Obamacare. West Virginia is one of the 18 Republican-led states that have joined the Trump administration in support of the Texas lawsuit that seeks to eliminate the Affordable Care Act
“It’s plain and simple: if he really supports everyday people, Governor Justice should instruct the Attorney General to pull out of the lawsuit,” Fluharty said.
“It’s awful funny that the majority party didn’t care about protecting pre-conditions until an election year,” Lindsay said. “This is another example of politicians saying one thing and doing another.”
Morrisey responded to the criticism.
“For years, we have said that people with preexisting conditions should be protected,” he said in a Jan. 13 statement. “Indeed, no one has lost any protections because of the (federal ACA) lawsuit. This act is designed to help West Virginians and is modeled after bipartisan, bicameral legislation.
“Our approach ensures that we eliminate the unconstitutional individual mandate of Obamacare and take steps to address skyrocketing premiums, while protecting those with preexisting conditions. This shouldn’t be about politics.”
Morrisey also had a few words for the critics.
“It’s sad that a bill that received such bipartisan support in Louisiana, and was even signed into law by a Democratic governor, is not enough for those in West Virginia who want to market in gloom and doom,” he said. “No one has lost coverage from preexisting conditions, and these individuals (his critics) have been misleading the public for years on this very point. We need to address this issue, protect people and stop these political games.”
On Jan. 14, Manchin also expressed his concerns with the Republican measure. He sent a letter to state lawmakers urging them not to pass the bill and to ask Morrisey to withdraw the state from the federal lawsuit.
“Make no mistake, if the Republican Attorneys General prosecuting the case succeed, they will repeal the ... Affordable Care Act and once again allow insurance companies to play God, deciding who can and who cannot access affordable health insurance,” Manchin wrote. "All those truly concerned about protecting people with preexisting conditions should urge West Virginia to immediately withdraw from this dangerous, partisan lawsuit and start working on real solutions. ...
"What we should not do is blow a $1 billion hole in the state budget while giving West Virginians with preexisting conditions fewer protections than they already have. That's exactly what the West Virginia Healthcare Continuity Act would do. It fails to account for over $1 billion in federal funding West Virginia receives annually. The 'patient protection pool' this bill would create would be meaningless if the ACA is repealed since no alternative funding mechanism has been provided."
Morrisey responded to Manchin's criticisms as well.
“For years, we have said that people with preexisting conditions should be protected, and now that we’ve introduced legislation to ensure just that, it is unfortunate that those who claim they want to protect those very people, now seem fixated on playing political games," Morrisey said. "Our multifaceted approach ensures that we eliminate the unconstitutional individual mandate of Obamacare and take steps to address skyrocketing premiums, while protecting those with preexisting conditions.
“No one has lost any protections because of the lawsuit, and the West Virginia Healthcare Continuity Act will maintain those protections. It’s sad that a bill that received such bipartisan support elsewhere is not enough for those in West Virginia who want to market in gloom and doom.”
A group based in Washington, D.C., also is critical of Morrisey’s proposal, saying it “claims to offer protections for West Virginians with pre-existing conditions despite (Morrisey’s) ongoing support for the disastrous Trump-Texas lawsuit that would eliminate those protections from 135 million Americans including more than 700,000 West Virginians
“West Virginia Republicans claim this proposed legislation protects people with pre-existing conditions, but it’s nothing more than political cover while they seek to eliminate those protections,” the statement from Protect Our Care said. “If Republicans like Attorney General Morrisey were serious about guaranteeing protections for pre-existing conditions they would not have signed on to the disastrous Texas lawsuit that seeks to eliminate health coverage for 20 million Americans and strip protections from more than 700,000 West Virginians with pre-existing conditions.
“It is clear that this legislation is another one of the GOP’s phony attempts at claiming support for protections for pre-existing conditions while simultaneously waging a war in court to eliminate them.”
Protect Our Care says its mission is to work “to provide lower costs and better care for all Americans and leading the fight against Republicans’ ongoing efforts to repeal and sabotage health care.”
During his press conference to unveil his proposal, Morrisey said it will not take effect unless the courts strike down or render substantial portions of the Affordable Care Act unconstitutional. He said he also does not expect ultimate resolution of the multistate lawsuit to alter the protections afforded to West Virginians with preexisting conditions.
Morrisey said passage of the proposed bill would ensure the continuity of care for those with preexisting conditions.
As Senate President, Carmichael (R-Jackson) said he sponsors few bills. But he said he will sponsor this "signature" item.
"This is a compassionate, conservative response to alleviating the problems that are associated with healthcare delivery," Carmichael said during the Jan. 7 press conference. "No matter what happens as it related to Obamacare and the problems associated with enormous increases in premiums, those with preexisting conditions in West Virginia will be covered."