Joe Manchin

U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin makes a point during a roundtable on the opioid epidemic at the Day Report Center in Ranson. Circuit Judge David Hammer (right) and area physicians, social workers, police officers and other also took part in the Sept. 19 talk.

RANSON – As Eastern Panhandle leaders report some success in the fight against opioid abuse, a political fight over healthcare could upend those efforts, U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin told area physicians, social workers, police officers, court officials and others here last week.

“If Obamacare ends, it’ll undo everything you’re doing here – I don’t need to tell you that,” the Democrat, explained during a 90-minute roundtable Wednesday morning at the Day Report Center in Ranson. “You’re on the front lines. You know what’s at stake.”

Manchin, a Marion County native served two terms as governor before taking over the seat of the late U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd. The 71-year-old won a special election in November of 2010, eight months after the Affordable Care Act became law.

One key facet of the ACA blocks insurance companies from denying coverage to people with pre-existing conditions. It also requires Americans to get health insurance, offering subsidies for some plans and allowing states to expand their Medicaid programs.

West Virginians saw huge benefits from the new law, with the percentage of uninsured adults dropping to just 9 percent in 2015 from 21 percent before the ACA .

Whether the Affordable Care Act will continue is a central issue for West Virginians weighing the Nov. 6 matchup between Manchin

and Republican Patrick Morrisey, serving his second term as West Virginia’s attorney general.

While President  Trump’s approval ratings are consistently higher in West Virginia than almost anywhere else and Trump has thrown his backing behind the 50-year-old Morrisey – campaigning for him in Charleston last month and praising him on Twitter as a “hardworking and spectacular person” – recent polls have put the incumbent ahead of Morrisey by 7 to 10 points. On Saturday night, Trump is set to campaign again in West Virginia. He’ll appear at a 7 p.m. rally alongside Morrisey at Westbanco Arena in Wheeling.

ACA lawsuit

Manchin points out that West Virginia, with its high poverty rate, aged population and overall poor health, now has the highest share of its population covered by Medicaid – 29 percent.

Some 160,000 West Virginians  became eligible for coverage in the Medicaid expansion under the ACA. About one in three West Virginians have a pre-existing condition.

“I don’t care if you’re a Democrat or a Republican – instead of trying to fix what’s not working [about Obamacare], they’re trying to unravel it every day and if that happens, West Virginians aren’t going to have access to the healthcare they need,” Manchin explained at the roundtable.

Many of Manchin’s re-election ads point out that Morrisey – a New York native who ran for Congress in New Jersey in 2000 – has made West Virginia a part of a new lawsuit filed by Republican state officials from around the country who oppose the ACA.

Earlier this month, a federal judge in Texas heard arguments in the case brought by Texas and 19 other states. It centers on Congress’s reducing the individual mandate penalty to $0, starting in 2019. The states argue this renders the individual mandate – which requires nearly all Americans to have health insurance – unconstitutional and thus invalidates the entire ACA.

If the states prevail and the Affordable Care Act ends – or if key pieces of it do – it’s estimated that 17 million Americans will lose coverage. Insurers also would again be able to deny coverage to those with pre-existing conditions, or charge those people much more for coverage.

Before being elected attorney general – the first Republican to win the office since the 1933 – Morrisey had commuted to his job as a lobbyist in D.C. from his home in Harpers Ferry. A West Virginia resident since 2006, Morrisey is the first Jefferson County resident ever elected attorney general.

Morrisey, a former pharmaceutical lobbyist, is married to D.C. lobbyist Denise Henry, whose career focus has been on lobbying related to pharmaceuticals and healthcare.

In a crowded May primary, Morrisey bested Congressman Evan Jenkins and five other candidates to win his party’s nomination.

Crisis response

legislation

During his visit at the Day Report Center, Manchin touted the Senate’s bipartisan support, pointing out how the Opioid Crisis Response Act passed by a 99-1 vote just two days earlier.

The legislative package takes a number of steps including limiting the flow of addictive pills, expanding treatment and requiring prescribing physicians to get ongoing training in addictive medicine.

Manchin said the lopsided vote – only Utah Repubican Mike Lee voted no – highlights the scope of the drug-overdose crisis blamed for some 72,000 deaths in 2017, including 49,000 from opioids.

If the legislation can be aligned with an opioids bill the House passed in June, it would then go to the desk of President Trump. The Senate bill includes changes such as:

  • Allowing the Food and Drug Administration to require drugmakers to package certain opioids in three- or seven-day supply “blister packs” – instead of giving patients more pills than they need.
  • Giving the National Institutes of Health authority to devote more funding to the development of non-addictive painkillers.
  • Extending treatment option to addicted mothers and their babies, who may be born with withdrawal symptoms

Among those attending last week’s event: Jefferson County Circuit Judge David Hammer; Charles Town Police Chief Chris Kutcher; Ranson Police Chief William Roper; Ronda Lehman, Jefferson County Teen Court coordinator; Ranson Mayor Duke Pierson; Kathy Skinner, president of the Jefferson County school board; Jefferson County Parks and Recreation’s Terri Burhans.

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