Health Care Plan Is Bad For W.Va.

The health care system in our country is clearly broken. Health insurance premiums are too high. Co-pays and deductibles for those with insurance are unaffordable. Drug costs have risen out of control. There are long waits to see specialists. And many of our rural communities have limited access to basic primary care. Health care needs reformed but the Graham-Cassidy bill being debated in Congress does little to fix these problems while potentially creating a disaster for financially struggling states like West Virginia.

Due to the complexities of the bill, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office will not be able to complete a full assessment before a rushed vote is taken on Wednesday. However, the AARP Public Policy Institute estimates the current draft will take between $10.7 billion and $24 billion from West Virginia over the next 20 years. That means even under the best-case scenario the state will lose an average of over $500 million per year.

For the past two years, West Virginia has struggled to meet its constitutional mandate of a balanced budget. Both years it took lengthy and costly special sessions and the imminent threat of a state government shutdown before a budget could be adopted. And looking forward, the governor and Legislature continue to face difficult decisions and financial challenges. Just two months into the current fiscal year, the state is already facing a $19 million deficit.

If Congress were to adopt the Graham-Cassidy bill, it would devastate the Legislature’s efforts to maintain a balanced budget without significant tax increases or draconian cuts to healthcare, education and senior programs.

This is why governors from around the country, including a number of Republican governors, have come out against this bill.

If forced to replace even the low estimate of $500 million per year in the budget, the Legislature would have to take all general revenue funding from the Department of Transportation, Judicial Branch, Department of Environment Protection, Department of Administration, Department of Veterans Affairs, Department of Commerce, Senior Services, Office of the Governor, Office of the Treasurer, Secretary of State, Department of Agriculture, Attorney General, State Auditor, Legislature, Department of Education and the Arts and the Department of Revenue. And after all those cuts were made, we would need to find another $100 million in the budget.

The total elimination of all of these departments, agencies and offices is neither practical or constitutional. The governor and Legislature would be left with three equally untenable choices — leave tens of thousands of West Virginians to suffer without access to basic health care, lay off thousands of state employees and eliminate basic services, or increase taxes and fees on the already overburdened citizens of our state.

Health reform is needed. And Congress should make every effort to find a solution that works for every American. But Graham-Cassidy does not solve our health care problems. It only shifts the financial burden to state’s like West Virginia that can least afford it. And it will force state leaders to make unwanted decisions about health services and taxes that will result in either physical or financial struggles for our people. I urge Senators Capito and Manchin to reject Graham-Cassidy and work cooperatively toward a repeal and replace solution that doesn’t worsen West Virginia’s budget troubles.

State Sen. Charles Clements, R-Wetzel, is a New Martinsville resident who represents the Second District in the West Virginia State Senate. The district includes all of Wetzel County, Tyler County, Doddridge County, Ritchie County and Calhoun County, and parts of Marshall County, Monongalia County, Marion County and Gilmer County.