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West Virginia won't run high-risk insurance pool

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West Virginia won't run high-risk insurance pool

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Plans for a high-risk insurance pool in West Virginia end because of the politics of abortion: http://sundaygazettemail.com/News/201007220840

The Chareston (W.Va.) Gazette
Thursday, July 22, 2010

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- West Virginia will not run its own insurance pool for people who can't find health coverage because of pre-existing conditions, after Republicans in the House of Delegates said the program might fund abortions and Democrats decided they didn't want to debate the issue. 

About 1,200 state residents with conditions such as cancer, diabetes and congestive heart failure would have qualified for the high-risk pool program, which is part of federal health-care reform.

 People will still be able to join through the federal government, but supporters of a state-run pool say it would better serve consumers. The program covers people who have been uninsured for at least six months. 

Prospects for a state-run pool died as the special legislative session ended Wednesday. The House of Delegates took up a spending bill that included a provision to let the state spend federal money to run the program.

GOP delegates offered several amendments targeting the high-risk pool, but withdrew them after Democratic leaders of the House agreed to take the program out of the appropriations bill before sending it to the Senate. 

One amendment by Republicans Jonathan Miller of Berkeley County and Daryl Cowles of Morgan County would have prevented the state from spending the money.

Miller said he was acting in the interest of his constituents. He said they don't want tax dollars to cover abortion, and cited a recent Rasmussen poll saying 67 percent of West Virginians support repealing federal health-care reform.

"[The high-risk pool] is a piece of Obamacare, and any dollar that we spend on it is a dollar that we're spending to support a program that seven out of 10 West Virginians want repealed," Miller said Thursday. "We did the right thing to defeat this bill."

Another change proposed by Delegate Craig Blair, R-Berkeley, would have banned the program from covering elective abortions.

But Perry Bryant, executive director of West Virginians for Affordable Health Care, said abortion is "a non-issue" in the program.

Last week, the Obama administration's Department of Health and Human Services announced that the pools would not cover elective abortions.

The average age of people who would be covered is 50, Bryant said: "There wouldn't be a high incidence of pregnancies."

West Virginia already has a pool called AccessWV. The federal program's premiums cost 25 percent less, Bryant said.

House Health and Human Resources Chairman Don Perdue, D-Wayne, said Republicans used abortion "to make a political statement."

Their amendments would have sparked a lengthy and emotional debate, and leaders of both the House and Senate "didn't feel like they wanted to commit the time to that," Perdue said.

"The issue was going to become little more than political fodder," he said.  "We've seen it throughout the country, and it's important enough that it shouldn't be that."

Perdue said he had favored a state-run pool, but hopes people will still have their needs met through the federally managed program.

Abortion is a politically sensitive issue for state Democrats, many of whom come from conservative districts. Another high-risk pool measure also died during May's special session.

Earlier this year, Gov. Joe Manchin had told the federal government the state wanted to partner with it to run the program. West Virginia would have received $27 million in federal funds for the pool. 

State Insurance Commission spokeswoman Kimberly Osborne said a state-run pool would have offered people better benefits.

"GoHelp [the Governor's Office of Health Enhancement and Lifestyle Planning] and the Offices of the Insurance Commissioner would have had more control of the program and would have had a better ability to help consumers," she said Thursday in an e-mail to the Gazette.

 "We thought it would be better to have a state-run program -- West Virginians helping West Virginians -- and providing jobs as Mountain State Blue Cross Blue Shield was going to provide the day-to-day work," she added. "Now, the federal government will come in to run this program."

All funding would have come from the federal government, she said.

West Virginia is now among 22 states that will have their pools managed by the federal government.

The programs will expire in 2014, when private insurance companies must cover people with pre-existing conditions.

Reach Alison Knezevich at alis...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1240.