Aug. 19—BRIDGEPORT — The Inflation Reduction Act has a direct link to West Virginia's health.
Among the changes ushered in with the act, which was signed into law this week by President Joe Biden, is a continuation of subsidies for health care insurance purchased through the Affordable Care Act that were brought in with the American Rescue Plan.
These subsidies dropped the average premiums customers had to pay out for health insurance through the government portal and allowed many West Virginians to afford health insurance.
The subsidies were set to end at the end of this year. Without them, premiums would have shot back to pre-pandemic levels, likely even higher. First Choice Services, which provides help in navigating residents through health insurance, estimated that around 18,000 West Virginians would experience premium hikes and 5,000 would see hikes so sharp it'd make insurance unaffordable.
Now Biden's monumental health, climate and inflation bill continues the subsidies and will keep premiums low.
"Rural communities have problems getting access to care and getting to care is difficult. This legislation ensures that one burden is taken away from families," WV Rural Health Association Director Rich Sutphin said. "They have coverage, so now if they get to the doctor or the hospital, they don't end up with a huge bill and bankrupt."
West Virginia is less healthy than the national average. Nearly a quarter of West Virginians rely on Medicare coverage compared to the national average of 19 percent.
According to West Virginians for Affordable Health Care, 24 percent of the state's adults under the age of 65 don't take their prescribed medications due to high costs. The Inflation Reduction Act also will reduce prescription drug costs.
Jessie Ice, director of West Virginians for Affordable Health Care, said in a press conference held Thursday in Bridgeport, that this legislation is a great first step, but there is still work to do.
"There are many, many provisions in this act that will benefit West Virginians," Ice said. "It's hard to estimate the impact the Affordable Care Act has had on West Virginians. We're one of the most unhealthy states, so we know that prior to the ACA it was difficult to even find insurance, now these subsidies make it even more affordable."
The subsidies introduced in the American Rescue Plan and now continued in The Inflation Reduction Act allow families to qualify for drastically reduced costs, some paying just $10 per month for health insurance.
In a state where chronic issues and health conditions are so prevalent in communities suffering financially, the continuation of this federal support was not just helpful, but necessary, Ice said.
"It's a gamechanger for here in West Virginia because it made the plans affordable all of a sudden," First Choice Services Program Director Jeremy Smith said. "Most people now can get a plan for under $50 per month with these subsidies and we've seen people qualify for as low as $10 per month."
Smith and the health insurance navigators he oversees are a local nonprofit that helps people maneuver through the health insurance system and find plans through the ACA that meet their needs.
When the ACA first was introduced, there was a lot of negative press surrounding its viability and accessibility. The website had issues and the process was complicated. In the last nine years, the system has been refined and Smith encourages anyone in the market for a new plan to try the ACA again.
"If people have checked in over the last nine years and didn't like the pricing at the time or had a bad experience, a lot of people haven't given it a second look," Smith said. "That's a huge mistake. The website is working great now, there are two carriers offering plans now, and these subsidies make the plans much more affordable."
At its core, the ACA and these subsidies seek to address a deeper goal. Communities that are healthy thrive compared to their unhealthy counterparts. Affordable insurance allows for preventative care and gives families and individuals one less thing to worry about every day.
Stupin has seen this firsthand and believes one of the keys to a healthy community and a strong workforce is affordable health care.
"When folks are healthier, they're more likely to be engaged in the workforce so it's an economic development measure," Stupin said. "But it also helps our communities thrive, and it makes our rural communities places where people want to live."
If interested in reviewing health care prices or in need of help navigating the health insurance system, visit the navigators' website at www.wvnavigator.com or call them at 1-844-982-2737.
Reach David Kirk at 304-367-2522 or by email at [email protected].