By: Kathleen Stoll
April 30, 2022
West Virginia’s many past blessings include senators who used their influence to bring home the bacon” – bring needed federal dollars to West Virginia. It’s impossible to drive for an hour in any direction without seeing a bridge or a road named after the Robert C. Byrd. The federal resources he brought to our state make a difference in West Virginians’ lives each and every day.
Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., needs to follow in Byrd’s footsteps. Manchin was on that path in 2021 when he voted for the American Rescue Plan Act, which beefed up the federal financial assistance that helps West Virginians buy their own health insurance.
Families in our state desperately need this help. Average premiums in West Virginia’s health insurance marketplace are $1,144 a month — higher than in any other state, and nearly twice the national average.
Thanks to the American Rescue Plan, 22,000 West Virginians who already used this financial assistance saw their costs plummet by $1,536 a year, on average. The 1,400 West Virginians who purchase coverage without that help saved slightly more: $1,675 per person. These savings are larger than those received in any other state.
One feature of the Rescue Plan is especially important to people like Manchin who value hard work. The plan tore down a health care cost cliff that blocked upward mobility. West Virginians fell off the cliff when their earnings rose even a few dollars above a relatively low federal income limit and they lost the help they needed to make health insurance even remotely affordable.
Thanks to Manchin and his colleagues, the American Rescue Plan destroyed that cliff.
Manchin should take pride in the plan’s accomplishments. But unless Congress acts, the Rescue Plan’s health care help will disappear the minute the ball drops in Times Square on New Year’s Eve. As fireworks fill the skies, West Virginia’s health insurance costs also will skyrocket, shooting up by a staggering 63%.
Tens of thousands of West Virginians buy their own health insurance on the marketplace. They get up every morning and go to work. but their jobs do not provide health benefits. More than 40% are age 55 and older. Far too many already struggle to pay the rising cost of everything from gasoline to food. The last thing any of them needs is the $36 million explosion of West Virginians’ health care costs that would result if Congress lets the American Rescue Plan disappear.
Without it, ewer families could afford insurance, and the number of uninsured West Virginians would increase by at least 7,000, according to non-partisan researchers. Rural hospitals struggling to keep their doors open could face an influx of patients with no means of payment. Hospitals are the largest single source of employment in many West Virginia counties.
If Manchin lets the rescue plan’s health care dollars leave West Virginia, the result will be more West Virginians unable to provide their families with health care, more financial hardship for local hospitals, and fewer health care jobs. Sam Runyon, a Manchin spokeswoman, said in an email that the Senator believes “no family has to choose between life-saving medications and putting food on the table.” No family should have to choose between health insurance or groceries.
Manchin has the power to prevent West Virginians’ health care costs from skyrocketing. He and his colleagues need to preserve the American Rescue Plan premium assistance that helps working families buy their own insurance.
I thank Manchin for bringing home the bacon in 2021. In 2022, he needs to sliding off West Virginia’s plate.
Kathleen Stoll serves as the Policy Director for West Virginians for Affordable Health Care (wvahc.org) and operates a policy and economic consulting business, Kat Consulting.