(09/22/2017)
REPEAL AND REPLACE OBAMACARE WILL MEAN 10,000 JOB LOSS IN WV

By Betty Rivard, Charleston Daily Mail

Sometimes I feel like I'm living in fantasyland.

This is one of those times.

We are facing a new push in Congress to reduce federal health care funds to our state.

At the same time, our state's Secretary of Commerce is telling our legislators what we are doing and need to do to bring in new businesses.

On the one hand, he is fighting for money to invest to bring in hundreds of jobs, at most.

On the other hand, we are confronting a real threat to take away over 10,000 jobs already being held by our workers in businesses and communities all over the state.

The loss of the 10,000 jobs is the projected minimum impact of proposed reductions in federal funding for Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act.

Other data has shown that the health care sector is the main source of job growth here in our state since the Great Recession, and the West Virginia University Health Systems is our largest employer.

The Commerce Department also talked about how the high quality of our workforce is critical to attracting new businesses.

Yet reducing federal ACA and Medicaid funding and protections will jeopardize the health of a great proportion of our population, including kids, seniors, people with disabilities who may or may not be able to work, and many people who are working.

These reductions will also take away one of the main weapons in our arsenal for fighting the drug abuse that directly affects our state's work participation rate.

The Graham-Cassidy bill goes further than earlier versions of repeal and replace in giving states the power to waive current protections and design their own programs.

This means that states with commitment and wealth will be able to offer a far better deal for businesses and employers than those, like our state, that are already suffering from a declining population and severe fiscal challenges.

Widening inequality of individuals and families will expand even further into widening inequality among states. Over $2 billion in federal funds is projected to be lost to the state between now and 2027.

Federal funding for Medicaid expansion that now covers approximately 168,000 people will be eliminated by then; funds may also be taken away from us and shifted to other states earlier if the bill becomes law.

I have held onto hope that our Republican senator, and our now Republican governor, could use their influence with the president on behalf of our state. As of this writing, the president has apparently supported this bill.

I was very grateful to Sen. Shelley Moore Capito on the day earlier this summer when she spoke out and said that she wouldn't bring harm to our people, and she voted against the stand-alone repeal of ACA.

Even though she backed off and supported the subsequent repeal and replace, I am still holding on to hope that she will speak up and vote for our state's interests again.

Maybe this time the economic impacts can help to carry the day.

When Gov. Jim Justice switched parties, he said that he wasn't political and the switch wouldn't change who he is. I know that as a Democrat he had been willing to advocate in support of Medicaid, and against cuts that would hurt people here. I also pray that he is true to his word and will again advocate for us.

Graham-Cassidy is not the last line of attack. Medicaid and ACA are also under threat via the federal budget and tax reform processes.

So, even if the senator and the governor contribute to stopping this bill, they will be confronted with similar challenges again as these other issues move quickly to the forefront.

The immediate challenge, by the end of this month, is to preserve the benefits of ACA and the federal funding for Medicaid and the Medicaid expansion.

ACA protects all of us with pre-existing conditions, regardless of who insures us, while Graham-Cassidy opens the door to weakening these protections, and limiting coverage, by allowing for premiums that are so high that none of us can afford them.

Our economy, now and into the future, depends on a well-funded comprehensive health care system.

I am not the only one who will thank and embrace those who are willing to stand up and protect the best interests of all of us.

- Betty Rivard is a retired DHHR social worker,social services planner and author


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