June 14, 2017

A polite word for crash

West Virginia is a state that benefited more than just about any other from the expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.

Thanks largely to it, our rate of uninsured West Virginians has plummeted. By 2016, it fell from 14 to 6 percent.

In a 12-month period, it covers 200,000 West Virginians. At any given moment, it covers around 175,000, nearly one in 10.

According to DHHR Secretary Bill Crouch, it made treatment for opioid addiction available to 50,000 people in desperate need of recovery.

It’s also been a boon to rural health care providers and helped preserve and create thousands of jobs in the health care sector.

In 2014, its first year of implementation alone, it reduced the cost of uncompensated care at 24 West Virginia hospitals by $264,829,374. Those are costs that weren’t be passed on to consumers in the form of higher costs.

The Republican-supported American Health Care Act, which passed the U.S. House in May, would phase out Medicaid expansion and mean a loss of Medicaid coverage to around 14 million Americans by 2026, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

The Economic Policy Institute estimates that these cuts would be a severe blow to our economy and could result in the loss of 23,000 jobs in West Virginia by 2022.

Given all this, it’s been a good thing that a few moderate Republicans in the U.S. Senate, including West Virginia’s Shelley Moore Capito, have spoken up in support of preserving Medicaid expansion.

Unfortunately, that might be changing.

According to The Hill, “GOP moderates in the Senate are open to ending federal funding for ObamaCare’s Medicaid expansion, but want a longer deadline for ending the additional funding than their leadership has proposed.”

These senators say they want “a significant glidepath” to end the coverage.

With all respect, I think glidepath is a polite way of saying plane crash.

Aviva Avon-Dine, of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, argues, “That approach would not preserve anyone’s coverage in the long run. It also would do next to nothing to preserve Medicaid expansion in the short run.”

According to one May poll, the House version is a little more popular than bubonic plague, with about one in five Americans supporting it. A more recent poll found that only 8 percent think the Senate should pass the House version.

But even a slower Senate version isn’t much more likely to receive public support.

According to the Kaiser Family Fund, “The vast majority of the public — including a majority of Democrats (93 percent), independents (83 percent), and Republicans (71 percent) — say it is important that states that received federal funds to expand Medicaid continue to receive those funds.”

The fate of a lot of people here and around the country is going to rest in the hands of a very small group of people. I hope that the lives and well-being of millions of Americans will outweigh political pressures and ideology.

(This ran as an op-ed in today's Gazette-Mail.)