Just two weeks ago, the Congressional Office of Management and Budget, a nonpartisan (supposedly) tool of Congress responsible for providing cost estimates on federal legislation, reported that they had misinformed Congress of the cost of the new federal health care legislation. Their miss? About $150 billion. Yep, they admitted they miscalculated the cost and are still attempting to obtain an accurate figure.
Last week, your West Virginia Senate blindly followed, in majority party fashion, their Washington colleagues in bringing this behemoth to our state. Although 18 states have passed legislation opting out of this program, my fellow West Virginia senators of the majority party persuasion have voted to move full speed ahead. Fortunately, the House ran out of time before adjournment and did not move on the issue. You can be assured, when we return on the June 7 for a special session, that the legislation will be revived.
In West Virginia, the legislation would replace a cost-effective and successful program that ensures that all West Virginians, regardless of their health condition, can obtain health insurance from a special high risk pool. The new health care plan will replace it with an unproven, cost-prohibitive program to be paid for by federal dollars for three years. Then, who pays the cost? You guessed it. You, the taxpayer. To fully disclose the cost, I must add that the three years of federal dollars would be paid for by our children and grandchildren, for it is their tax dollars we are now spending. It will also establish a huge bureaucracy within the state's Insurance Commission to implement and regulate the future programs required of the federal health care bill. Just what we need - more state government.
The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is supposed to extend coverage to 31 million more people while reducing health care costs. To quote a recent Charleston columnist, "Every armchair economist in the country knew that doing the first would make the second impossible."
Let's consider the cost in West Virginia. Some estimate that the "affordable" health care act will raise the state's Medicaid costs by hundreds of millions of dollars. The state's PEIA health insurance program for state employees will see an increase of more than $30 million next year alone. Either you and I pony up in additional taxes or it means less money will be available for schools, fewer water or sewer projects and no matching funds for the completion of Corridor H.
Sen. Robert?C. Byrd, bless his heart, added a provision allowing for just about any miner to receive future black lung benefits. Greg Burton, CEO of Brickstreet Insurance, says that the increase in workers compensation premiums will be "significant." In fact the National Council on Compensation Insurance has asked the state to OK a 45 percent increase in a rate that is a key factor in setting premiums. Our state employers will be forced to pay the additional cost.
What will the cost be to you personally?
Well, if you cannot show that you have purchased a government approved health care policy, you will be charged $695 or up to 2.5 percent of your annual income. If you have a family, you will be charged $347 per child up to $2,250 per family for not purchasing health insurance. Those assessments do not get you into a program of health coverage, they are simply fines for non-compliance.
If you already have a great health care plan, you may have to start paying taxes on it. Businesses who do not have health plans may pay a penalty of $2,000 per employee. In a state where we have lost over 20,000 jobs in 2009 alone, that's a killer for job creation. A little known factor of the plan will also impose a 3.8 percent tax on home sales and other real estate transactions. This amounts to a tax of $7,600 on a home sold for $200,000.00.
Get ready for more surprises along the way. In addition to the huge cost on the federal level, the state will be forced to implement additional taxes. Tax cuts? Don't even think about it. Smaller government? You must be joking. Unless November elections bring responsibility and accountability back to Washington and Charleston, get ready for a bumpy ride. (Hadn't mentioned the potholes that won't be fixed in the future). The truth is, though, the people that cause these problems are always from somewhere else - or are they? Better start checking the voting records of your local "good ol' boys."
I am thankful to my minority party members of the Senate in standing firm with me in opposition to the implementation of this program in West Virginia. Everyone wants to see that those who are in need of health care receive it. However, we should fix the specific areas of concern, not destroy the best health care system the world has ever seen.
Please feel free to contact me on this or any other issue. You may leave a message by phone at 304-357-7973, or by mail at Sen. Clark Barnes, West Wing Room 203, State Capitol Building, Charleston, West Virginia 25305.
(Editor's note: Barnes is a state senator who represents the 15th District.)