Democratic U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin said Thursday he'll oppose any legislation that takes health care away from West Virginians and urged people to "bombard" President Donald Trump with calls and emails to halt the Republican plan.
Manchin said Trump needs to be enlisted to stop the immediate Republican push to repeal former President Barack Obama's health care law. The law added coverage to about 210,000 people in West Virginia, including 25,000 getting treatment in a state ravaged by the opioid epidemic.
"I think President Donald Trump is the only one who can stop this right now," Manchin told more than 200 people at a town hall meeting. He cited Trump's campaign promise that people wouldn't lose health insurance. "I would bombard the White House."
Without bipartisan support, the alternative that would provide billions of dollars in tax breaks to the wealthiest Americans will prove as divisive as the current program that was approved by only Democratic legislators, Manchin said.
The current program is flawed and the focus should be on fixing those problems, which include mandatory coverage levels that make options so expensive that many younger people stay uninsured, he said.
He noted that many people who got coverage under the health care law don't know who made it happen. "They will know one thing — who took it away from them," Manchin said.
Manchin planned to attend three more town hall meetings organized by health care advocates.
Organizers said the state's Republican lawmakers — Sen. Shelley Moore Capito and Reps. Alex Mooney, David McKinley and Evan Jenkins — have declined so far to attend.
Several doctors, other providers and patients emphasized the importance of continuing coverage.
"Ordinary citizens like me are literally fighting for their lives," said Stephanie Fredericksen, a former insurance agent who had to quit working because of Lupus and other ailments and lost company-provided insurance. "Now it's up to the people that represent us to put their egos and agendas aside."
Manchin said he agreed with the analysis presented Thursday by Kat Stoll of West Virginians for Affordable Care that found 257,000 of West Virginia's 1.8 million people were uninsured before the law, which has dropped to 108,000. About 35,000 got insurance through the federal marketplace, 70 percent with premium subsidies, and another 175,000 got it through the Medicaid expansion that would end, she said.
The Republican House proposal will shift $880 billion in costs to the states, provide $592 billion in tax breaks to the wealthy and change other Medicaid funding limits, Stoll said. It would drive up premiums by thousands of dollars for older people getting commercial insurance through the health exchange, she said.