After the departure of Optima insurance, large portions of the 9th District will be the “the only places in the U.S. without at least one insurer” who provides coverage under the ACA. This will affect over 70,000 individuals in this area, including thousands in Pulaski County. This issue, according to the insurers is the uncertainty of federal cost-sharing reduction (CSR) payments, which President Trump will only decide on a monthly basis to pay or not. Obviously, since insurers are obligated to continue individual plans for an entire year that kind of uncertainty makes the payments key to insuring sufficient funds for those plans to remain solvent.
So what’s our Congressional representative doing? Well first, he issued a press release that is as close to an “I Told You So” that I’ve ever seen, stating “This is the collapse of Obamacare I have spoken of for years.” This appallingly smug statement will not provide insurance coverage to the tens of thousands of Virginians he represents. In fact, ending CSR payments would actually cost the federal government more money since higher premiums (from 9-29%) would mean larger tax credits than the payments themselves. I’m not sure how that squares with Mr. Griffith’s stance on fiscal conservatism- more money, for less insurance and worse outcomes. The markets were stable until the threats to remove the CSR payments, the instability is coming from specific policy decisions in his own party. How do I know this? Doug Gray, executive director of the Virginia Association of Health Plans (who represents the insurance companies) said “We didn’t get into this by accident. It was by a conscious choice of [Republican] leadership.”
Mr. Griffith’s statement that the Republican House of Representatives’ AHCA bill would have “stabilized the individual insurance market” has proven to be a fantasy. Some numbers for reference. In Pulaski County 3,000 people would lose health coverage and those who are enrolled in individual plans (over 1,100 in 2016) would see premium increases of almost $4,000. It appears Mr. Griffith thinks that thousands of people (62,200 in the 9th District) losing health coverage and people seeing double digit increases in health case costs is “stabilizing the market.” But some of those people who lose insurance will become seriously ill or die because they can’t afford basic care. Perhaps Mr. Griffith should try out the free market he so rigorously champions, and buy non-subsidized individual health insurance for 2018 just like thousands of his neighbors in the Ninth District. He told me he suffers from food allergies. I wonder how well taken care of those allergies would be if he had to pay out-of-pocket for his medicines and doctors appointments like his neighbors will.
When I spoke with Mr. Griffith, I told him that I hoped to renew my practice of law and he encouraged that. Right now, I’m not sure that it would make sense to spend the time and money if it will not lead to affordable health insurance. How will we attract new businesses (like the recent announcement he touted of Koinonia) if the employers cannot tell employees they can buy health insurance, even if they can afford it? Fewer and fewer jobs come with health insurance attached, and eliminating the individual market will make it harder to encourage folks to move to Southwest Virginia. Much of the 9th District is seeing shrinking populations and loss of jobs. My wife and I only moved here because we could get healthcare through the individual exchanges. We’ve bought a home, had a second child and plan to stay here for many years. The changes Mr. Griffith seeks already are dissuading people and businesses from moving to Pulaski County, and eventually may force those people and businesses who have the financial means to move elsewhere in search of basic things like affordable healthcare. Carilion and HCA are two of the biggest, and in terms of high-paying jobs best, employers in and around Pulaski County. Neither can afford to see up to 10% of their patients stop seeking care because they simply cannot buy insurance.
I encourage you to call Rep. Griffith’s DC office at (202) 225-3861 to tell him to put people before partisan politics, and guarantee the CSR payments. Tens of thousands of his constituents depend on him.