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AG, lawmakers announce bill

CHARLESTON — Joined by members of the state Senate and House of Delegates, Attorney General Patrick Morrisey announced new legislation this week to protect residents with pre-existing medical conditions from having their healthcare taken away should the federal courts rules against the Affordable Care Act.

The West Virginia Healthcare Continuity Act would provide protections to West Virginians with pre-existing conditions should the ACA, also known as ObamaCare, end up in the U.S. Supreme Court for a second time since its passage in 2010.

“The West Virginia Healthcare Continuity Act as proposed by our office aims to ensure that those with pre-existing conditions do not lose their ability to obtain healthcare coverage in West Virginia,” Morrisey said. “This is critically important legislation, but it also reaffirms my desire to protect those with pre-existing conditions and keeps my promise to do so by working with the Legislature.”

Under the proposed legislation, it would place a ban on restricting enrollment in health insurance programs to people with pre-existing conditions, covering 10 healthcare coverage categories. The bill, if passed, would not take effect unless the Affordable Care Act is struck down in whole or in part.

“This is a compassionate, conservative response to alleviating the problems that are associated with health care delivery in a mechanism of pre-existing conditions,” said Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson. “No matter what happens as it relates to ObamaCare and the problems that have been associated with the enormous increases in our premiums, those with pre-existing conditions in West Virginia will be covered.”

Morrisey is among 18 Republican state attorneys general led by Texas who filed suit against the Affordable Care Act after Congress basically eliminated the penalty for not having health insurance — the individual mandate.

The attorneys general argue that by eliminating the individual mandate penalty, the act became unconstitutional.

The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans ruled in favor of the Republican attorneys general on Dec. 18, agreeing that the individual mandate was unconstitutional, but not overturning the law itself. They returned the case to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas, which will consider whether the Affordable Care Act will remain as is, or if the individual mandate will be removed from the law.

Democratic attorneys general from 17 other states have defended the Affordable Care Act in court after the Department of Justice declined, joined by the U.S. House of Representatives. The Justice Department has since rejoined the case on the side of the Republican attorneys general.

In West Virginia, more than 800,000 residents could lose their coverage if the act is ruled unconstitutional, an issue that came up during Morrisey’s campaign for U.S. Senate against Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va.

The Healthcare Continuity Act is similar to a law passed last summer in Louisiana. According to Governing magazine, Louisiana Gov. John Edwards quietly signed the law after calling the bill a “fig leaf” aimed at providing cover for state Attorney General Jeff Landry, who was one of the 18 Republican attorneys general who filed suit against the act.

Morrisey stands by his decision to file suit against the ACA, citing a 260 percent increase in rising healthcare premiums. But the recent death of Morrisey’s mother, who was buried on Monday, showed him the struggles of someone battling a pre-existing condition.

“Every single one of us know people with pre-existing conditions,” Morrisey said. “I know we can’t propose a bill that promises that everyone will get better, but I can promise you with this bill no one can be denied health insurance in West Virginia because they are sick.”