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Tax Bill Could Raise WV Health Insurance Costs, Reduce Access

The tax bill now being debated in Congress could have a major impact on West Virginians' health insurance. (Pixabay)
The tax bill now being debated in Congress could have a major impact on West Virginians' health insurance. (Pixabay)
December 15, 2017

CHARLESTON, W. Va. – In its current form, the big tax bill now nearing passage in Congress would raise health-insurance premiums and force millions of people to lose access, according to one analysis of federal figures.

Health economist Emily Gee with the Center for American Progress estimates that nearly 70,000 West Virginians would lose coverage over ten years. She says that's because the bill repeals the individual mandate, which now requires people to have insurance or pay a tax penalty.

Gee says without it, estimates are that annual premiums will rise.

"If healthy people leave the insurance markets, that means that overall, the average person is sicker," she explains. "Insurers would need to raise premiums. The Congressional Budget Office thinks that would be about a 10-percent increase over the next decade."

Congressional Republicans argue that repealing the individual mandate would permit people who want to, go without insurance. Gee counters that some of them would end up costing the system more, by showing up uninsured in emergency rooms when they need medical care.

Gee says that kind of uncompensated care decreased under the Affordable Care Act but could climb again if the tax bill passes. She adds it's an especially serious problem for smaller hospitals.

"Particularly in rural areas or areas where the hospitals are under a lot of financial strain, a big increase in demand for uncompensated care could be tough, or even devastating," she warns.

The Center also estimates that the bill would trigger more than $180 million in cuts to West Virginia Medicare payments next year, because of Congressional spending rules. Gee says the bill would increase the deficit enough to force $400 billion in Medicare cuts nationwide over 10 years.

"These cuts are automatic," she stresses. "You wouldn't see Medicare necessarily mentioned anywhere in the tax bill. But it would, by law, these automatic cuts would go into effect starting in 2018."

The bill's supporters say Congress could decide to exempt Medicare from the cuts at a later date.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - WV