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Manchin, Morrisey Trade Barbs Over Healthcare Continuity Act

CHARLESTON — The 2018 U.S. Senate election might be over, but U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Republican Attorney General Patrick Morrisey continue to fight over the Affordable Care Act, now focused on a proposal by Morrisey to protect coverage for people with pre-existing conditions.

Manchin wrote a letter to the West Virginia Legislature Tuesday urging lawmakers to encourage Morrisey to drop a lawsuit against the Affordable Care Act that’s pending in a federal district court in Texas and likely to end up at the U.S. Supreme Court later this year.

“As you begin the 2020 legislative session, I urge you to remember the 800,000 West Virginians living with a pre-existing condition and the 150,000 West Virginians who gained healthcare coverage through Medicaid expansion,” Manchin said. “All those truly concerned about protecting people with pre-existing conditions should urge West Virginia to immediately withdraw from this dangerous, partisan lawsuit and start working on real solutions.”

Speaking during a conference call Wednesday, Manchin told reporters it was important to weigh in on the state legislation given the importance of the Affordable Care Act in insuring West Virginians.

“I saw that a piece of legislation was coming down from (Morrisey) that was going to be very harmful,” Manchin said. “The Republican attorneys general are leading the charge in repealing basically the ACA when we have legislation that would fix the part they keep harping on that’s broken and wrong.”

Morrisey and 17 Republican attorneys general joined a lawsuit filed by Texas in 2018 against the Affordable Care Act after Congress eliminated the individual mandate penalty for not having health insurance. The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas ruled that the entire Affordable Care Act was unconstitutional.

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 lower court to work out whether the individual mandate could be separated from the ACA or whether the ACA could be divided into parts.

In West Virginia, 20,066 West Virginians either re-enrolled or signed up for healthcare coverage with either Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield or CareSource through HealthCare.gov as of Jan 1. As of October 2019, more than 528,826 West Virginians had coverage through Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program. Another 443,870 West Virginians are on Medicare according to 2018 numbers.

Manchin criticized Senate Bill 284, the West Virginia Healthcare Continuity Act, first proposed by Morrisey on Jan. 7 and introduced Jan. 10. The act would make sure health insurance plans in West Virginia cannot be denied on the basis of a pre-existing medical condition. If passed, the bill would only take effect if the ACA is overturned.

“Now they’re trying to go with a statewide program that will protect you in the state,” Manchin said Wednesday. “There’s no way to protect you in the state to pick up the federal money that is subsidizing healthcare. The state doesn’t have the budget. If anything, they’re in a deficit.”

Morrisey, responding to Manchin’s criticisms in a conference call of his own Wednesday afternoon, said it was rich for opponents of his bill to be concerned about premium increases now, when the ACA has also raised premiums.

“There are a lot of the purveyors of doom and gloom who are putting out false information and false numbers,” Morrisey said. “We’ve said for years that people with pre-existing conditions should be protected. Now that we’ve introduced legislation to ensure that occurs, there are a lot of people coming out and attacking that concept. That is a troubling development.”

Democratic lawmakers raised concerns about the act Monday because it puts people with pre-existing conditions in a high-risk pool that could cause their premiums and deductibles to increase. Morrisey said that’s not true.

“It’s really rich for people on the other side to be talking about the risk of increased premiums when the very structure that they’re defending has caused massive increases in premiums,” Morrisey said. “What we’re trying to do is not throw everyone in some high-risk pool, that’s not true.”

“What this would do is offset the insurer’s costs from covering high-risk individuals,” Morrisey said. “If you have qualified health conditions that would otherwise be associated with high premiums and the cost of providing coverage, than that’s going to allow for reimbursement so you don’t create the adverse action and premium problem. The model is going to be far superior to (ACA).”

Manchin, in his letter to state legislators, said the bill would also put the financial burden on state taxpayers, potentially costing the state $1 billion to ensure coverage.

“What we should not do is blow a $1 billion hole in the state budget while giving West Virginians with pre-existing conditions fewer protections than they already have,” Manchin said. “The ‘patient protective pool’ this bill would create would be meaningless if the ACA is repealed, since no alternative funding mechanism has been provided.”

In response, Morrisey said that it remains unclear how his proposal would be affected if parts or all of the ACA is struck down.

“We know that the individual mandate is likely to go, but it’s very unclear if that is the only provision that gets struck down” Morrisey said. “We don’t think the entire law will go away because it’s been amended so many times…it’s going to force Congress to go back and do its job.”

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