Manchin opposes state pre-existing conditions bill

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., is asking the West Virginia Legislature to protect insurance coverage for pre-existing conditions as the legal challenge to former President Barack Obama’s health care law continues.

Manchin sent a letter to lawmakers on Tuesday asking for legislators to act, pushing for dumping a Republican-backed measure on pre-existing conditions.

West Virginia and 17 states, along with the U.S. Department of Justice, are arguing “Obamacare” is unconstitutional following the zeroing of the individual mandate in the 2017 tax law. A federal appellate court ruled in December the provision is unconstitutional, but left the rest of the law to a federal district court in Texas that already struck down the entire statute.

“Make no mistake, if the Republican Attorneys General prosecuting the case succeed, they will repeal the entirety of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) and once again allow insurance companies to play God, deciding who can and who cannot access affordable health insurance,” Manchin wrote.

West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey and state Republican leaders announced last week the West Virginia Healthcare Continuity Act, which would prohibit health insurance companies from excluding people because of a pre-existing condition if “Obamacare” is no longer in effect.

According to a 2018 West Virginia University report, around 719,000 non-elderly West Virginians have a pre-existing condition.

The bill would also create a risk-sharing program to pay insurance providers for covering people with high health care costs.

U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va.

Manchin said the measure would negatively affect West Virginians. He also criticized the bill for not taking into account the millions of dollars West Virginia receives from the federal government related to “Obamacare” or the 156,000 West Virginians enrolled in the state’s Medicaid expansion program.

“The ‘patient protection pool’ this bill would create would be meaningless if the ACA is repealed, since no alternative funding mechanism has been provided,” he said. “Prior to the ACA, state efforts to require insurers to cover people with preexisting conditions resulted in large premium spikes and, in some cases, caused insurers to exit the market.”

Manchin also asked lawmakers to urge Morrisey to withdraw the state from the lawsuit.

Manchin has criticized Morrisey in the past for the legal action; Manchin made the lawsuit part of his 2018 re-election campaign, in which Morrisey was the Republican candidate.

Following the release of Manchin’s letter, Morrisey attacked critics of the bill.

“For years, we have said that people with preexisting conditions should be protected, and now that we’ve introduced legislation to ensure just that, it is unfortunate that those who claim they want to protect those very people, now seem fixated on playing political games,” he said in a statement to MetroNews.

“Our multifaceted approach ensures that we eliminate the unconstitutional individual mandate of Obamacare and take steps to address skyrocketing premiums, while protecting those with preexisting conditions.”

Louisiana approved a measure similar to the West Virginia Healthcare Continuity Act last year. Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry, like Morrisey, is involved in the legal challenge to “Obamacare.”

West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice endorsed the West Virginia Healthcare Continuity Act during his State of the State Address last week. Democratic legislators have introduced bills in the state Senate and House of Delegates they say would ensure equal coverage of pre-existing conditions.

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