Organizations share concerns about ‘Obamacare’ lawsuit ahead of oral arguments

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — With the U.S. Supreme Court scheduled to hear oral arguments next month regarding former President Barack Obama’s health care law, a group of West Virginia organizations on Tuesday shared their concerns about what overturning the law could mean for the state.

The West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy, the West Virginia Citizen Action Education Fund, West Virginians for Affordable Health Care, and Cabin Creek Health Systems held a briefing about the legal challenge to “Obamacare” and the effects of justices possibly striking down the law.

The Supreme Court has scheduled arguments on the health care law for Nov. 10, a week after Election Day. Eighteen state attorneys general — including West Virginia’s Patrick Morrisey — and the U.S. Department of Justice argue “Obamacare” is unconstitutional because Congress reduced the health care law’s individual mandate to zero in the 2017 tax law. The plaintiffs additionally contend the provision is unseverable from the rest of the law.

“Those of us that are hosting this briefing have been talking about the possible consequences of a negative Court decision that overturns the health care law as ‘disaster preparedness,'” said Kelly Allen, the executive director of the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy.

“We think that is how everybody — families, health care providers, and our local, state and federal elected officials — needs to be thinking about this lawsuit as well.”

Jessica Ice, the executive director of West Virginians for Affordable Health Care, said there are two concerns about how the Supreme Court could rule: the effects on covering preexisting conditions and the expansion of Medicaid.

As noted in a 2018 West Virginia University policy brief, around 719,000 non-elderly West Virginians have a preexisting condition. Ice explained “Obamacare” not only secured insurance coverage for people but also prohibited insurance companies from installing lifetime caps and charging policyholders more for covering certain conditions.

“We know preexisting conditions, prior to the ACA, could be anything,” she said. “They could be high blood pressure, they could be diabetes, they could be even testing positive for COVID as a preexisting condition.”

According to the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources, around 179,000 residents have insurance coverage because of Medicaid expansion. The expansion has allowed people more opportunities to receive treatment for opioid addiction as well as insurance coverage following job loss.

“I can’t think of many sections of West Virginia that this wouldn’t impact,” Ice said.

Kelly Allen (West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy)

Ice also noted it is unclear how the court could rule.

“The court could choose to not necessarily throw out the entire ACA, but they may keep some parts of it,” she said. “Or the law could disappear in some states like the ones that are challenging the ACA — like West Virginia is — and not in others.”

Allen said if the Supreme Court fully overturns “Obamacare,” 198,000 West Virginians would lose insurance coverage, in which racial minorities and coal miners would be the most impacted. Uncompensated care costs for hospitals would increase by $1.6 billion over a decade, and uncompensated prescription drug costs would rise to $1.3 billion over the same time.

Allen also mentioned the possible impact on the state’s economy; West Virginia would lose more than $9 billion in gross state product over five years and $16 billion in business output during that period. She stated a decision striking down the law would result in 16,000 jobs lost, with 7,200 positions being from the health care sector.

“Just to put that in perspective, that’s one out of every 50 jobs in the state,” she said. “That’s a major, major economic impact.”

An end to the law would also affect the state budget; Allen noted West Virginia receives federal funding to cover 90% of Medicaid expansion costs.

“The bottom line here of talking about this is that even if you are not someone who’s directly impacted by the loss of coverage or the ACA being repealed — even though you probably are — you’re still going to feel these rippling effects that impact our entire state economy,” she explained.

Dr. Daniel Doyle, a physician at the Cabin Creek Health Center facility in Dawes, said West Virginians have benefited from “Obamacare.”

“Now, I can go for days without having patients who miss necessary tests or specialty care,” he said. “In fact, it had been routine for people to not get what they needed. The new routine is that people get what they need, and that’s made all the difference in trying to practice in a place like Cabin Creek or Fayette County, West Virginia over these past 10 years.”

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, West Virginia’s uninsured rate decreased from 14.6% in 2010 to 6.7% in 2018.

Doyle was one of 31 doctors who wrote a letter to Morrisey in September about withdrawing from the lawsuit.

“We believe he owes the people of West Virginia an explanation for why such a frightening policy would be proposed and pursued,” Doyle added.

Morrisey has told MetroNews he supports covering preexisting conditions, and his involvement in the legal challenge is because of rising health care costs. He said earlier this month he believes the Supreme Court will strike down the individual mandate yet order a lower court to determine which parts of the law are severable from the tax penalty.

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