BECKLEY, W.Va. — U.S. Senator Joe Manchin met with clergy members from across West Virginia during a roundtable discussion at the Raleigh County Commission on Aging.

Manchin said nearly 800,000 West Virginians currently have a pre-existing condition. The most common are high blood pressure, behavioral health disorders including substance abuse, high cholesterol, heart disease, diabetes and cancer.

The Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, currently allows those with a pre-existing condition to be covered at no additional cost. Pre-existing conditions are those that were diagnosed before an individual’s health plan went into effect.

According to Manchin, should the current administration repeal the Affordable Care Act, 36% of West Virginians would likely be unable to get health insurance coverage.

“That’s why we keep telling President Trump, ‘let’s try to fix what we have’,” said Manchin. “There’s other examples out there that we could find, I think, a pathway forward.”

This is the second roundtable event Manchin has held with clergy members. The other was held June 18 in Bridgeport. Manchin believes this type of approach is effective in reaching people who may want information on healthcare, but don’t want a partisan perspective.

“They are effective because they (clergy members) do go back and we’re starting to get letters in. People tell me what will happen if they lose it. If they have to basically say that they’ve had hypertension, high blood pressure, cancer. What they will charge me with for my insurance to protect me in case it comes back is going to be prohibited. That’s what we’re trying to prevent.”

Data from Manchin’s office also indicates that between 2010 and 2014, when the ACA’s biggest health insurance reforms went into effect, the number of Americans with pre-existing conditions who were uninsured fell by 22 percent across the U.S.

Manchin hopes by working with the church community, more people will be able to openly discuss and get information on political issues such as health insurance. Many clergy members in attendance agreed, saying they view their sanctuaries as a “safe space” for political discussions.

“The faith-based communities are the only ones that can come at this in a bipartisan way and I think hold politicians accountable. The clergy basically doesn’t care if you’re democrat or republican if you go to their church. They care about you as being a part of the flock in the congregation.”

Around 20 clergy members were present at Monday’s roundtable event.

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