CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- For thousands of uninsured West Virginians, October 1st marks the beginning of a new era. More than 130,000 uninsured, low-income West Virginians will become eligible for low-cost insurance through Medicaid. Another almost 100,000 West Virginians who make too much to qualify for Medicaid will be eligible for tax credits to make their premiums more affordable through the new Health Insurance Marketplace.
The actuaries for the Offices of the Insurance Commissioner project that under the Affordable Care Act, the number of uninsured West Virginians will drop from 246,000 to 76,000 by 2016. That's nearly a 70 percent reduction in the number of uninsured. It's hard to imagine but in three years there will be 170,000 fewer uninsured West Virginians, according to the actuaries.
None of these newly insured people will face restrictions due to a pre-existing condition. There will be no denial because someone has diabetes, no policy that covers everything except what a person needs coverage for the most -- their existing health insurance problem, and no more higher premium because you have a pre-existing condition such as asthma or high blood pressure. It is will be a very changed environment thanks to the Affordable Care Act, and one that is much more consumer-friendly.
I am perplexed that expanding coverage to thousands of West Virginians and millions of Americans has generated so much opposition. Some Republicans in Congress -- will Congresswoman Capito be among them? -- actually want to shut down the federal government rather than expand health insurance to the uninsured. Really? I don't know about you, but that doesn't make any sense to me, particularly, when they have no alternative plan that will cover the uninsured nor a plan for ending pre-existing condition limitations.
Along with denying 170,000 uninsured West Virginians insurance coverage and imposing pre-existing condition limitations on everyone with an individual policy, here are some other consequences if Congress actually succeeds in repealing the Affordable Care Act:
• Seniors will once again be required to pay for the gap in Medicare's prescription drug program, known as the doughnut hole. This is no small change. In 2012, more than 37,000 seniors and people with disabilities in West Virginia saved over $34 million, or an average of $891 per person, because the doughnut hole is being eliminated by the Affordable Care Act.
• 18,000 young adults in West Virginia who are currently insured through their parents' policy would lose coverage and become uninsured.
• The repeal of the Affordable Care Act would re-impose deductibles, co-payments and co-insurances on patients when they receive clinically appropriate preventive measures such as flu shots, mammograms, pap smears, and other lifesaving cancer screens.
• We will return to an era when insurance companies could charge women a higher premium for the exact same insurance policy that a man buys. And we will return to an era when insurance companies could spend as much as they want on administrative costs, costing Americans one billion dollars in lost rebates.
It is not just some members of Congress who understand that when the Affordable Care Act is implemented the American people will resist its repeal. West Virginia's Attorney General Patrick Morrisey also fully understands this. Mr. Morrisey raised privacy concerns about 15 people across the state enrolling West Virginians in Medicaid and subsidized health insurance policies suggesting that they have a background check and be fingerprinted. Mr. Morrisey ignores the fact that licensed insurance agents, who also have access to personal information, have no required privacy training, unless they are selling policies under the Affordable Care Act, and none are required to have background checks or to be fingerprinted. Mr. Morrisey also ignores the fact that thousands of state employees who have access to private information, such as those who process unemployment claims, are not required to have a background check or be fingerprinted, although they do have annual privacy training.
I am not suggesting that these trusted state employees have either background checks or be fingerprinted; it would be a waste of resources. I will, however, leave it to you to decide what Mr. Morrisey's motivation is when he raises concern over privacy with 15 people helping to enroll West Virginians in new health insurance coverage under the Affordable Care Act while ignoring privacy concerns for thousands who have even greater access to personal information. Is Mr. Morrisey really motivated by privacy concerns, or is he using his elected office to advance a partisan, political agenda?
West Virginia has too much at stake to let partisan political agenda, at the national or state level, stand in the way of enrolling 170,000 uninsured West Virginians into health coverage. These uninsured West Virginians should have the same financial and health-care security that those of us with insurance coverage currently enjoy. October 1 marks the beginning of a new era, and one that will be celebrated by thousands of hard-working West Virginians.
Bryant is director of the West Virginians for Affordable Health Care.