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WV Medicaid Patients Closely Watching U.S. Senate

Folks like Allison McComas say Medicaid expansion has made a huge difference for them. (Dan Heyman)
Folks like Allison McComas say Medicaid expansion has made a huge difference for them. (Dan Heyman)
June 19, 2017

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Despite Sen. Shelley Moore Capito's promises to defend their health care, some folks covered under the Medicaid expansion in West Virginia are frightened by the health care bill in the Senate - and they haven't even seen it yet.

Capito initially said she would defend the expansion. But more recently, she's said she would vote for the expansion to be phased out under the Senate legislation now being drafted behind closed doors.

That's disturbing to Allison McComas from Charleston. She gets emotional remembering what it was like before the Medicaid expansion, when she ran up thousands of dollars in unpaid medical bills while working low-paid restaurant jobs.

"People get sick from not having health insurance, and they let it go too long, and they can't work,” McComas said. "All in all, it makes sense for everybody to have coverage, not just rich people."

Capito did not respond to requests for comment.

She has said she thinks people who enrolled when Medicaid was expanded, such as McComas, should go through a transition period as Medicaid funding is cut. Supporters of the reduced funding call it necessary for the program's stability.

Edwin Park, vice president for health policy at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, said the little information that has been leaked about the Senate bill indicates it generally resembles the one that passed the House. He said both would cut a quarter of Medicaid funding to make room for tax cuts benefiting the wealthy and the health care industry.

He said he predicts the Senate bill's timeline will be slower, but would have the same impact.

"The progress that's been made with the Medicaid expansion would be lost over time, and then the coverage levels that were even in place pre-Affordable Care Act would be rolled back as well,” Park said.

The Congressional Budget Office estimated the Medicaid cuts in the House bill would cost 14 million people their health coverage. Park said the Senate bill would eventually arrive at the same result.

"With the same outcome as the House bill: that is, very large Medicaid cuts and millions of low-income individuals, who would otherwise be on Medicaid, losing their coverage,” he said.

About 170,000 West Virginians signed up when Medicaid was expanded, one of the highest rates in the country.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - WV