Advocates call on Congress to extend health insurance subsidies before 5,000 West Virginians lose coverage
Coal Valley News (Madison, WV)
CHARLESTON — Health insurance advocates and experts in West Virginia called on members of Congress last Tuesday to extend subsidies for insurance coverage that were initially enacted in 2021 as part of the American Rescue Plan Act.
If the subsidies expire, 5,000 West Virginians could lose health insurance coverage, while another 18,000 residents would see an increase in their payments.
People who are low-income will be "most impacted" by this shift, said Jessie Ice, executive director for West Virginians for Affordable Health Care.
Ice, citing a study from the nonprofit research group Urban Institute, said West Virginians could see $37.5 million in subsidies taken away from residents if the tax credit isn't made permanent by Congress.
The premium subsidies are set to expire Dec. 31 and could leave more than 3 million people uninsured nationally. This is occurring as inflation rates increase, leading families in West Virginia and beyond to pay more for groceries, gas and other necessities. Economists nationally have reported that inflation rates in the United States could approach 9% this summer, a 40-year high.
Ice said the effect of inflation on health care will be delayed due to contracts held by providers, but the increased costs will hit consumers eventually.
"By 2023, we're really going to start seeing the impacts on health care if Congress doesn't make permanent these expanded enhanced tax credits," Ice said.
Jeremy Smith, program director for the Affordable Care Act Navigator program in West Virginia through First Choice Services, said the subsidies have been integral for West Virginians struggling throughout the pandemic and beyond.
The Navigator program assists residents across the state in signing up for health insurance plans that meet their needs. The Marketplace can be confusing for many, Smith said, and health insurance in general is often expensive. In 2013, when Smith started as a Navigator, he watched prices on the Marketplace "inch up a little over the years."
"By 2019," Smith said, "the plans were out of reach for a lot of folks. They couldn't afford (health insurance) even with the (existing) subsidies."
The expanded subsidies changed that, Smith said, and people in West Virginia have been "ecstatic" about them.
"It makes all the difference for people to be able to have health insurance, to be able to go to their doctors and stay on top of their health," Smith said. "It's made a huge difference for everybody."
Ice shared testimonials of people who have been helped by the subsidies, including a 60-year-old Wheeling woman who works full time as an independent contractor and doesn't qualify for health insurance through her employer. Her monthly insurance costs dropped from $1,000 to $180, Ice said.
"Congress can act to mitigate these increasing costs that we expect to come down in 2023," Ice said. "We need both our senators — (Joe) Manchin and (Shelley Moore) Capito — to tell Congress this is what West Virginia needs. We need those credits to be permanent."