June 18, 2018

Manchin, clergy meet to discuss pre-existing conditions and health care | WV News

BRIDGEPORT — U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., met with priests, ministers and pastors of various faiths Monday to discuss the impact of allowing denial of health care due to pre-existing conditions.

The meeting was held as a roundtable-style discussion that allowed the participants to bring their concerns and feelings on the issue to the senator. Many also gave accounts of problems related to the issue, either personal or those of the members of their respective congregations.

Manchin explained that a civil lawsuit, which could end with protections for those with pre-existing conditions being struck down, was the reason the discussion needed to happen.

"There is a ruling that is going to be coming down," Manchin said. "We've had 20 attorneys general — our own attorney general — asking to intervene, basically asking to take out pre-existing conditions.

"What that means is if you have any type of a health condition that was pre-existing, insurance companies are going to be able to cut you out or not insure you or raise the price so high that you can't afford it."

Manchin said the provision that protects against such actions is outlined in the Affordable Care Act. However, if the court strikes down the provision, those protections will be gone. Manchin said 800,000 West Virginia residents have pre-existing conditions and would be affected by the loss of the protections.

"We're trying to prevent this from happening, because this will be a calamity," Manchin said.

The meeting comes less than two weeks after the Trump Administration's controversial decision to no longer defend the Affordable Care Act against the lawsuit, which was brought on by 20 states, including West Virginia.

The states allege the act's individual mandate — requiring people to be insured — is unconstitutional. The individual mandate being struck down would bring other key pieces of the legislation down with it, including the pre-existing condition protections.

Manchin said his decision to gather clergy for the discussion is based on a belief that the men and women of faith would be able to look beyond the politics of the situation.

"The clergy of West Virginia: These are people touching people's lives every day, and they know what a hardship this is going to put on their congregation," Manchin said.

Manchin believes the clergy members can help to change the attitudes of politicians by showing that they are united in thinking the provision should be kept.

"The politics will all work itself out if you have compassion and you're caring about people, and I can't think of a better group to get that going in the right direction," Manchin said.

The though the main discussion focused on the issue of pre-existing conditions, participants also discussed related issues.

Matthew Johnson, a pastor at Suncrest United Methodist Church in Morgantown, described a situation he has seen when people utilize assistance programs such as food stamps or Women, Infants, and Children.

Johnson pointed out that some pre-existing conditions could be prevented by a healthy diet, but those in the assistance program are unable to get healthy foods. 

"What we see, typically, when it comes to food stamps or WIC, is that the kinds of foods that are going to be nourishing, fueling and empowering are not available to them," Johnson said. "To buy the food you need is expensive, and there are a lot of people who don't have the resources to eat the way that they should to promote health."

Darick Biondi, a United Methodist pastor at three different locations in Kanawha County, said the issue of pre-existing conditions was something he and his wife personally faced before the Affordable Care Act was implemented.

They discovered that if she were to become pregnant, her private insurance would not cover any health care related to the child before its birth, and a company that would have covered it denied her due to pre-existing conditions.

"We had to be very careful, because in that window of time there was nothing that would cover us," Biondi said. "The only private insurance that did offer a maternity rider turned her down because of pre-existing conditions — one of which was the simple fact that she gets migraines occasionally.

"The fact that that could be a reason for her to be turned down, the fact that our child could not get the healthcare she needed at those essential stages, just seemed to go against what it means to care for the sanctity of life."

By:  Michael Lemley