Senator Jay Rockefeller today said nearly 60,000 West Virginians have gained access to coverage through a provision in the Affordable Care Act that expands Medicaid, the life-saving health care insurance for those with fewer resources.
Speaking at a hearing of the Senate Finance Committee while questioning U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, Rockefeller expressed concern over
administrative problems in launching the federal health care marketplace, a key provision of the Affordable Care Act whose technical issues have caused widespread frustration for those seeking to sign up for health insurance under the landmark health reform law.
"Madam Secretary, you have already heard and will continue to hear a great deal of criticism of the Administration's rollout of the Affordable Care Act," Rockefeller said. "To be perfectly frank, some of this criticism is justified, and West Virginians have a right to know about your plans to correct past mistakes. And you should know I'm deeply frustrated with the problems many Americans are experiencing as they try to sign up for health care coverage.
"But I also want to make the point that the frustration we all feel comes largely from the fact that our hopes and expectations for the new law are so high, and the need for affordable health insurance in this country is so great. We should not let the marketplace's problems overshadow the lifesaving benefits of the law," he said. "Whether it is expanding Medicaid coverage already for almost 60,000 West Virginians, or removing barriers to care for those with pre-existing conditions, the real story of the Affordable Care Act lies in the lives it is making better every day. And I remain enormously proud of the law and the promise it holds for people in West Virginia and around the country."
West Virginia has been a leader in the expansion of the Medicaid program under the ACA. Already, nearly 60,000 West Virginians have enrolled in Medicaid, and an estimated 100,000 will be eligible to do so next year. Rockefeller applauded West Virginia Governor Earl Ray Tomblin and the work of the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources for their work in making Medicaid expansion a reality in the state.
Rockefeller, a senior member of the Senate Finance Committee who chairs the Healthcare Subcommittee, acknowledged his personal frustration over the launch of Healthcare.gov, the online portal created by HHS to enroll Americans in health insurance plans. And he urged Sebelius to work feverishly to get the site up and running.
Commenting on reports that show some Americans are having their health insurance plans cancelled, Rockefeller said it is important to understand that many of the cancelled plans were expensive, and did not cover the basic services most people need to keep their out-of-pocket costs low.
"While healthcare reform was sorely needed to help the more than 40 million people without any insurance, it was also designed to help the over 100 million people who paid premiums every month only to find that their plan didn't cover them when they needed it," Rockefeller said. "These are considered "underinsured,' and many were one major health problem away from financial ruin. Most personal bankruptcies are the result of health care expenses, so when consumers have bad health insurance without real coverage or face astronomical out-of-pocket expenses, this places an incredible burden on working families.
"Healthcare reform will make this a thing of the past, as plans must actually cover you when you get sick and there are limits to how much a consumer must pay each year. That's a story that desperately needs to be told," Rockefeller said.