Nancy Tyler, health care consultant and West Virginians for Affordable Health Care board member, lays out the last year in health care in a new op/ed in the Charleston Gazette.
One year ago, on May 4, the House of Representatives passed the so-called “American Health Care Act,” or AHCA. The health care repeal bill would have cut coverage, increased costs and eliminated protections for tens of thousands of West Virginians. The bill also would have imposed an “age tax,” letting insurers charge people over 50 five-times more for coverage, and put the health of one in five Americans on Medicaid — including seniors, children and people with disabilities — in jeopardy.
Thankfully, similar versions of the AHCA failed to pass in the Senate. But at the one-year anniversary of House Republicans’ attempts to dismantle health care for millions of Americans, it’s worth reminding ourselves just how much the bill would have devastated West Virginia.
The AHCA would have stripped health care coverage from 122,800 West Virginians. For those who might have been able to retain their health care coverage, the AHCA would have raised premiums by double digits.
Though a large portion of West Virginians stood to lose in some way, our state’s most vulnerable were the ones under the greatest threat. Astonishingly, the AHCA would have allowed states to eliminate provisions that prevent insurers from charging more to people with pre-existing conditions. That means the 800,000 West Virginians who have a pre-existing condition could have legally been charged exorbitantly higher prices, while surcharges for things like asthma, pregnancy, arthritis, and cancer would have spiked tens of thousands of dollars.
Furthermore, the bill would have allowed states to opt out from the requirement that all insurers provide a set of 10 essential health benefits, including maternity care, hospitalizations, and mental and behavioral health. This, coupled with the drastic proposed cuts to health programs, would have made it harder for our state and others to tackle the opioid addiction crisis gripping our nation.
Not even the elderly were spared in this bill. The AHCA tried to impose what AARP called an “age tax” on older Americans, letting insurers charge people over age 50 up to five times more. In West Virginia, annual out-of-pocket costs for older people stood to increase by as much as $12,369 by 2026 had the AHCA passed.
Just as sad and shocking is the fact that 2,200 West Virginia veterans — those whom we should be protecting the most — might have lost their health care coverage. This is largely due to the AHCA’s unprecedented proposed cuts to Medicaid.
The AHCA was poised to slash Medicaid, the program so many of us rely on, to the tune of $839 billion (or 25 percent). It would have ended federal programs that help states expand Medicaid to even more vulnerable populations, as well as converted the program into a “per capita cap,” thus ending guaranteed coverage for everyone on the program. In short, it put the health of 77 million Americans — including roughly 568,000 West Virginians — who rely on Medicaid at risk of losing their coverage.
Aside from harming the health of the citizens who help West Virginia prosper, the state budget also stood to take a massive hit under the AHCA. Medicaid cuts included in the bill would have shifted $4 billion in costs to West Virginia, straining our state’s finances and forcing legislators to respond by either raising taxes or cutting funding to other critical programs, like education. The AHCA was more than just an attack on our health care; it was a direct threat to the economic well-being of our state.
As we remember the devastation that we narrowly escaped thanks to the Senate striking down the House’s AHCA, we must recommit ourselves to fighting for our health care, holding our representatives in Congress accountable, and, come November, voting out of office those who put partisan politics and big donors before us — their constituents.