A committee in the West Virginia House of Delegates narrowly voted against passing a Republican bill to protect West Virginians with preexisting conditions, should a federal law currently providing these rights be repealed.
Senate Bill 284 was contingent on the federal government declaring a significant portion of the Affordable Care Act, known commonly as “Obamacare,” unconstitutional.
The ACA prohibits insurance companies from excluding or discriminating against consumers based on their preexisting health conditions, including cancer, diabetes, depression and epilepsy, among other diagnoses.
A federal appeals court panel ruled in favor of a Texas lawsuit last year, agreeing that the ACA violates the U.S. Constitution based on a different section of the law requiring individuals to purchase health insurance. The Supreme Court is not expected to weigh in anytime before the 2020 election.
The House Health and Human Resources Committee on Saturday voted 12-11 against sending the bill to the full House of Delegates for consideration.
Although lawmakers spent a fair amount of time asking committee staff and a representative from the attorney general’s office about the bill, there was no debate before their vote.
Delegates on both sides of the aisle raised questions about the bill’s unclear cost. The legislation called on the state Insurance Commissioner to create a reinsurance program that would assist health insurance companies covering individuals with serious and costly health care needs, but the bill didn’t specify how the state would pay for this program.
Democrats focused several of their questions on state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey and his role in the Texas lawsuit threatening the ACA’s existence.
Morrisey was one of several other Republican attorneys general in 2018 to he join a lawsuit challenging the ACA in a U.S. District Court in Texas. West Virginia Deputy Solicitor General Thomas Johnson — who works in Morrisey’s office — told delegates on Saturday that was due to reportedly increasing cost of premiums.
Health experts paint changes in health care spending as more complicated than just increasing premiums.
Del. Mick Bates, D-Raleigh, voted against the bill on Saturday, saying the bill did nothing to protect West Virginians with preexisting conditions.
“The only one it protected was the attorney general, who filed the lawsuit against Obamacare for political reasons and had the Republican leadership run this bill so he had political cover,” Bates said in a text message to West Virginia Public Broadcasting.
The Health committee made its decision less than a week after the bill cleared the full Senate on Tuesday, Feb. 25, after passing two Senate committee references.
A second bill — a proposal from Senate Democrats — seeking to protect West Virginians with preexisting conditions was never acted upon and missed a key legislative deadline.
Both bills are unlikely to return, after delegates rejected a motion to reconsider the Republican sponsored Senate Bill 284 toward the end of the Health committee meeting.
A spokesman for Morrisey’s office did not respond to a request for comment Saturday evening.
Emily Allen is a Report for America corps member.