W.Va. Bill Could Extend Health Insurance to Thousands

March 9, 2007

Thousands of West Virginians could be newly eligible for health insurance through their parents’ plans under a measure advanced Wednesday by the Senate Finance Committee.

The bill already passed the House of Delegates in a slightly different form. It would allow people to receive health insurance through their parents’ plans through age 25. Currently, dependent children are cut off at age 18 or at age 23 if they’re full-time college students.

Although it’s not clear how many West Virginians this would affect, the number eligible for extended coverage under the state Public Employees Insurance Agency alone would be roughly 7,400, PEIA spokesman David Bailey said.

When the number of West Virginians who receive private health insurance is added to that, it could be expanded by thousands more, said PEIA finance board member Perry Bryant.

“This could insure more people than any other initiative that’s been adopted over the last four years,” Bryant said.

Delegate Samuel Cann, D-Harrison, who introduced the bill in the House, said he’s seen estimates that indicate between 10,000 and 20,000 people could be eligible for the additional coverage.

“It’s a whole class of citizens we ignore,” he said. “This is the fastest-growing group of citizens without health insurance.”

PEIA’s participation, though, could be a sticking point. The version of the bill approved by the House excluded the public agency from the expanded coverage. A Senate committee amended the bill to include PEIA members, and the Senate Finance Committee on Wednesday endorsed that version of the bill before passing it on to the full Senate.

A fiscal note on the bill estimates it could cost PEIA $7 million in the first year of expanded coverage, and up to $22.8 million in the first three fiscal years. PEIA estimates it would likely have to raise premiums in response.

“Excluding PEIA from this would be a mistake,” said Bryant, who is also the executive director of West Virginians for Affordable Health Care.

Bryant said PEIA is prevented by statute from increasing premiums this year, and that “innovative ways” could be found to fund the increased coverage.

The Finance Committee also amended the bill to allow parents to opt out of providing further coverage for their children, and to ensure that additional costs won’t be spread to policyholders without dependent children.

“If someone has a dependent that falls in this category, any additional expense should fall on them,” said Sen. Edwin Bowman, D-Hancock.

If the Senate approves the bill, it will return to the House for another vote because of the amendments. But Cann, who had originally included PEIA in his bill only to see it removed by a later amendment, said he doesn’t think the changes will kill the bill.

“We’re trying to reach out and cover more and more people,” he said. “The cost isn’t too high when you’re talking about covering 20,000 West Virginians.

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