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Morrisey: 'Let me be clear,' W.Va. not ready for ACA rollout on Oct. 1

WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. -- State officials charged with implementing the Affordable Care Act in time for open enrollment Oct. 1 have been dealt "an impossible hand," Attorney General Patrick Morrisey said Saturday.

Morrisey said federal delays in health-care reform deadlines make it difficult to implement the law on a state level.

"I really feel for all of the incredible state workers in West Virginia," Morrisey said, speaking at the annual conference of the West Virginia State Medical Association. "I know that the governor and the head of [the] DHHR are working feverishly to have a successful implementation ... . They're phenomenal people, but they've been dealt an impossible hand."

The WVSMA's Healthcare Summit was held over the weekend at The Greenbrier resort.

A recent Congressional Research Service report found that half of 82 federal ACA-related deadlines have been missed, Morrisey said. The report focused on deadlines in the first three years of the law's implementation, from March 2010 to March 2013.

The federal government has delayed for one year a mandate requiring large employers to offer health benefits or face financial penalties and a policy that puts a cap on patients' out-of-pocket insurance expenses.

"We are not ready to roll out the ACA on Oct. 1, let me be clear about that," Morrisey said, adding that Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin and the state Department of Health and Human Resources are doing good work, "but how on earth can you expect them to do really positive things when you've got half of the ACA deadlines [that] are not being met?

"This is what we're dealing with; this is a huge problem."

The CRS report that Morrisey cited was first published by conservative columnist Avik Roy, a former adviser to Gov. Mitt Romney's presidential campaign.

"Most of these deadlines aren't for mission-critical features of the law," Roy wrote. "For every missed deadline or White House waiver, there are nine aspects of Obamacare that are being implemented as we speak."

If enrollment in the state's health insurance exchange and Medicaid expansion does not go well between Oct. 1 and March, the state should take "some legal action," Morrisey said.

"I want to sit down and work with the governor on this," Morrisey said, "because I want to make sure that we are speaking with one voice."

Morrisey also expressed concern about the federal government's navigator program for enrollment. Navigators are trained to assist people in enrolling in the health insurance exchange.

In West Virginia, two agencies, Advanced Patient Advocacy LLC of Charleston and West Virginia Parent Training and Information Inc. of Clarksburg, were awarded a total of $642,375 to help people buy insurance on the exchanges.

Morrisey and 12 other attorneys general recently wrote to President Obama's health secretary, Kathleen Sebelius, about their concerns with the program.

Online training for some navigators is not available but might be next week, Morrisey said.

"That leaves a minimal amount of time to get everybody up to speed," Morrisey said. "That's a serious problem, especially when you have individuals that are going to be touching consumers in our state.

"I take consumer protection and identity theft very seriously," he said, "and if we don't know much about these folks, that represents a potential threat for our citizens."

Morrisey expressed concern that federal rules do not mandate background checks or fingerprinting for navigators, although agencies in West Virginia have volunteered to do so, Morrisey said.

"The privacy standards set forth by the federal government are vague, at best," Morrisey said. "There are so many unanswered questions. How will you know who an Obamacare enroller is, compared to a scammer?"

Reach Lori Kersey at lori.kersey@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1240.


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