Uninsured rate still good in West Virginia

Left-leaning health insurance advocates got a little nervous this month when U.S. Census Bureau data showed a statistically insignificant change in the percentage of West Virginians with health insurance, from 2017 to 2018. There are (gasp) still 6.4 percent of Mountain State residents without health coverage.

To be fair, Sean O’Leary, policy analyst at the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy, acknowledged a huge leap had been made in 2014 when lawmakers decided to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. And it is important to remember our state is one of the best in the nation at making sure children have health insurance (only 3 percent do not) because of initiatives such as the Children’s Health Insurance Program.

But O’Leary commented that “with recent gains in coverage beginning to be lost, there is still work to be done to make sure every West Virginian has access to quality and affordable healthcare coverage.” He then pounced on the opportunity to wring his hands because lawmakers might try again to implement a work requirement for Medicaid benefits. Last session a bill died in the House of Delegates before it could require that “able bodied” residents, with a few exceptions, must work, volunteer, be in training, or part of a substance abuse treatment program for at least 20 hours a week, to be eligible for Medicaid.

Remember that approximately 13 percent of Americans as a whole are without health care coverage. West Virginia is doing quite well, by that standard.

So it is disingenuous to pretend holding steady at such a low percentage translates into “gains in coverage beginning to be lost,” or that a work requirement for those who are able should be avoided because, according to the center’s news release on the matter, it is “likely to cause even more West Virginians to lose coverage.”

We can always do better, of course. But the fact West Virginia’s uninsured population is only half the national average is not something about which we should be wringing our hands.


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