Policy Symposium Brings Hundreds to the Capitol

Budget Beat – September 27, 2013

This week the WVCBP was a part of history as months of work came to together at the state Capitol. On Tuesday and Wednesday, activists, policymakers, West Virginia families met to set policy priorities for how to lift working families out of poverty at the Our Children Our Future Policy Symposium hosted by the West Virginia Healthy Kids Coalition. The WVCBP facilitated sessions on raising the minimum wage, creating a state Earned Income Tax Credit, and establishing a Future Fund, and was a cosponsor of the event.

After a day of sessions, the group presented its priorities to the Joint Committee on Children and Families. The next step is to narrow down the field to a select number of issues to be taken up during the 2014 Legislative Session. Here is Sabrina Shrader sharing her story of what it was like to be born into poverty.

2013 Policy Symposium – Senate Judiciary Room
September 25, 2013
Charleston Gazette photo

Here’s the Charleston Gazette coverage of the event.

As we reported last week, the number of West Virginians living in poverty remains high, despite the post-Recession recovery. Here is more on our analysis of last week’s data.

Coming next week: our report on how raising the minimum wage is an important step in helping working families escape poverty.

Ted Boettner meets with Senate President Jeff Kessler and former State Senator Dan Foster at this week’s Symposium (photo by Steve Allen Adams).

EPA’s New Regulations Come Under Fire

Other big news this week was the EPA’s proposed regulations to cap carbon emissions at new coal-burning power plants. West Virginia’s congressional delegation spoke out against the rules, viewing them as targeting West Virginia’s coal economy. Ted Boettner appeared on WV Metro News radio on Monday and was quoted in the Charleston Gazette, adding balance to the discussion.

WV Metro News also ran this article in which Ted stated, “If the EPA just dismantled and shut down today, we’re still going to have a declining structure for coal in West Virginia. That’s part of the problem is we’re not acknowledging that this is happening right now.”

He noted that coal production is already declining due to the recent recession and the rise of natural gas production in West Virginia.

Cuts to SNAP Would Affect Thousands of West Virginia Households

Budget Beat – September 20, 2013

House Votes to Cut Food Stamp Benefits to Millions

Yesterday, the House of Representatives voted to cut funding to SNAP, the food stamp program, by $40 billion over the next two years, kicking nearly four million people off the program. This bill would have harsh impacts for West Virginia families since almost half of SNAP households in the state have children. Read more about who else would be affected in Sean’s blog post.

There was a lot of data released this week including numbers on who lacks health care in West Virginia. With full implementation of Obamacare just around the corner, 100,000 uninsured West Virginians are expected to gain access to coverage through the Marketplace. Since fewer employers are choosing to offer coverage to their employees (a downward trend since 2000), their employees will have somewhere to go to get coverage. Read more in Brandon’s blog post.

Who is uninsured in West Virginia? Two out of three of them worked part- or full-time in 2012 but at low wages, according to data released this week. Read more about who is most likely to lack health care coverage in West Virginia here and more about how Obamacare will greatly reduce their numbers by 2016.

In the News

One in five West Virginian’s relies on the SNAP program to put food on the table. Cuts to this program will be especially devastating to West Virginia’s families. Read more in this week’s Charleston Gazette article.

New census data released yesterday show that the poverty rate in West Virginia has barely budged since the end of the Great Recession. Not only is poverty staying high, wages are staying low. Read more in this week’s Charleston Gazette.

There was national coverage this week on Senate President Jeff Kessler’s push to bring a Future Fund to West Virginia. Read more about his efforts to look to the future and learn from missed opportunities here from ABC News.

Policy Symposium Next Week

History will be made next week at the first-of-its-kind Our Children, Our Future: 2013 Policy Symposium, Tuesday September 24-25. The WVCBP is a proud sponsor and will host three strategy sessions during the event: increasing the minimum wage, creating the State Earned Income Tax Credit, and establishing Future Fund.

Can’t make it? Our presentations will be posted on our website and we will provide a full recap in next week’s Budget Beat.

SNAP Vital for West Virginians

Yesterday, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to cut SNAP, or the food stamps program, by nearly $40 billion over the next two years, kicking nearly four million people off the program. The House bill achieves this primarily by denying SNAP benefits to unemployed workers and struggling families whose incomes are just above the poverty line. And it has a nasty side effect of causing children to lose their free school lunch when they lose their SNAP eligibility. It’s no surprise that this would be bad for West Virginia, and we’ve talked before about who receives SNAP benefits in West Virginia.

With yesterday’s release of the 2012 American Community Survey, new data are available about SNAP in West Virginia. So let’s take a look.

According to the ACS, in 2012, an estimated 116,622 households in West Virginia received SNAP benefits, or about 15.7% of all households in the state. Many of the households had elderly family members or children. Of those households receiving SNAP benefits, about 31,000 or 27% had at least one person 60 years or older living there, and about 54,700 or 46.9% had children.

More than half of SNAP households in West Virginia had a person with a disability living there in 2012. Approximately 67,700 or 58.1% of the households receiving SNAP benefits had one or more persons with a disability.

The majority of SNAP households are also working. An estimated 65.4% of SNAP households in West Virginia had at least one worker in 2012, and 18.5% had two or more workers. But, as shouldn’t be a surprise, those workers weren’t in high paying jobs. The estimated median income of a SNAP household in West Virginia for 2012 has $13,447, well below the poverty threshold for a family of two.

The ACS data just go to show that SNAP helps those that are working to support their children, the elderly, the disabled, and the poor. Punishing those who can’t find work or those who are working to support their children by taking away their SNAP benefits is senseless.

Who Are The Uninsured in WV? Mostly the Working Poor

Who are the uninsured in West Virginia?  Well, they are mostly the working poor, who, as it turns out, are exactly the people that the Affordable Care Act will help cover.

Data released today from the United State Census Bureau provide detailed estimates on household characteristics at the state level including income, education, employment, race, and health insurance coverage. According to this data, 14.4 percent of West Virginia residents, or 263,809 people, were uninsured in 2012.  So who are they?

Working-Age Adults…

The vast majority of the uninsured are working-age adults, 18-64, accounting for nearly 94% of all non-covered West Virginians.  Children under the age of 18, even though they constitute 21 percent of the state’s population, only make up 5.7 percent of the uninsured.  Within the working age group, 25 to 34 year olds were the most likely to be uninsured as nearly one in four lacked insurance in 2012.

                               Figure 1

By Age 

With A High School Education or Less…

Education level can be a good predictor of health insurance status. Those in West Virginia with a high school diploma or less are more likely to be uninsured than someone with a college degree.  While about one in five West Virginians have a college degree, they account for less than one in ten of those who are uninsured.

                               Figure 2

By Education

Who Most Likely Work…

Full-time workers are less likely to be uninsured than people who work less than full-time or not at all, however, two out of every three uninsured West Virginians worked full or part time in 2012.

                               Figure 3

By Employment

 Probably in the Retail or Restaurant Industry…

A more detailed break down of employment status by industry shows that the workers most likely to be uninsured work in retail or food services, combining to account for almost 40 percent of the uninsured population throughout the state.  While accounting for over a quarter of all workers in the state, those employed in education and health care make up about one-sixth of the uninsured.

                               Figure 4

By Industry

And Earn Less Than $50,000 Per Year…

Household income is a strong predictor of health insurance status.  People living in households that made less than $50,000 in 2012 were more than twice as likely to be uninsured as people living in households earning over $50,000.

                             Figure 5

By Income


Overall, the ACS data released today by the Census Bureau paint the same picture of the uninsured in West Virginia that we’ve known for quite some time – people with lower educational attainment and lower earnings are much more likely to be uninsured than those with college degrees and higher earnings.  What is most noteworthy, however, is that most of those who are uninsured do work, which directly contradicts the view that some people have of those who they believe are “gaming the system.”  The majority of the nearly 264,000 uninsured West Virginians are the working poor between the ages of 18 and 64; fortunately, this is also the group who are most likely to benefit from the Affordable Care Act through the expansion of Medicaid and tax subsidies that will be made available through the Marketplace insurance exchange.  By 2016, the number of those without health coverage in the Mountain State is expected to drop to around 76,000, a 70 percent decrease in the uninsured rate, thanks to the Affordable Care Act…I mean, Obamacare, I mean…the ACA…meh, whatever you want to call it.

Job-Based Health Coverage Declining in WV

According to data released today by the U.S. Census Bureau, the number of West Virginians covered by an employer-sponsored health insurance plan has dropped significantly since 2000.  In that year, over 63 percent of all West Virginians had insurance provided through an employer compared to less than 56 percent in 2012, a drop of over 43,000 West Virginians.  Even though employer-sponsored insurance has declined, the total number of state residents with health insurance has stayed about the same over this period thanks in large part to Medicaid making up the difference for those losing job-based coverage (Figure 1).  Meanwhile, the total number of uninsured West Virginians is expected to plummet over the next few years as the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is fully implemented.

Figure 1: Job Based Health Coverage Declining as Overall Insurance Rate Stays SteadyHealth Insurance Coverage 99-12











Source: WVCBP analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data

Nearly 15 percent of the state’s residents, or around 266,000 people, lack any type of health coverage, according to the Census Bureau data.  With the trend of fewer employers choosing to offer insurance, the number of uninsured in West Virginia would likely be set to rise if it weren’t for the ACA which begins in 2014. 

Two major provisions of the ACA are expected to increase coverage in the Mountain State.  First, over 91,000 West Virginians are expected to gain health insurance coverage through the state’s decision to accept federal funds to expand Medicaid.

And, starting in just a couple of weeks on October 1st, state residents who can’t get affordable health insurance through their jobs but earn too much to qualify for Medicaid can sign up for coverage for 2014 through the state’s new health insurance exchange, called the Marketplace.  Most of the people in West Virginia who purchase health insurance through the Marketplace will be eligible for new federal subsidies, or discounts, to reduce their monthly premiums.  Over 100,000 West Virginians are expected to gain coverage through the Marketplace. 

By 2016, only 76,000 West Virginians are expected to remain uninsured, or about 4.2% of the state population, less than a third the rate of uninsured today. 

The Census Bureau will release additional data this Thursday with more detailed information on West Virginia so stay tuned for in-depth analysis from the WVCBP. 

Remembering “Mr. Public Health”

It’s with a heavy heart that I share the news of the passing this weekend of Dr. George Pickett, a titan of public health, not only in West Virginia but nationally and abroad.  

Dr. Pickett APHADr. Pickett was a physician who spent his career working in public health in every imaginable way possible.  He worked at the local level serving as the director of health departments in California, Michigan and New York, at the state level directing the West Virginia Department of Health under Governor Rockefeller, at the national level as President of the American Public Health Association and the American College of Preventive Medicine, in academia at schools around the country and in the United Kingdom, and even at the grassroots level as a member of the Board of Directors of West Virginians for Affordable Health Care.  

Although I served alongside Dr. Pickett for several years on the Board of WVAHC, I did not know him very well as our interactions were limited to brief conversations at monthly meetings, of which he was unable to attend very many recently due to his health.  I now regret not having taken the time to get to know him better and learn from him and his huge wealth of experience.  It is not often you find someone who is so genuinely devoted to and capable of promoting public health. Dr. Pickett was a public health superstar long before it was the cool thing to do.

He was an impressive fellow and will truly be missed.  May you rest in peace, Dr. Pickett.  

You can find his obituary here:  http://www.wvgazette.com/Obituaries#124697


(Image on Right: Announcement of Dr. Pickett’s selection as APHA President from the American Journal of Public Health, 1977)




Have You Registered for the Policy Symposium?

Budget Beat – September 13, 2013

How Much Should You Be Making?

Over the Labor Day weekend, the Economic Policy Institute released a tool you can use to see what you would be earning had wages kept up with productivity. Read more in Sean’s blog post this week.

Starting October 1, 2013 the new insurance marketplace will begin operation in West Virginia, providing more options for people who are uninsured and businesses that want to shop around for health care coverage. In his blog post this week, Brandon describes some fear tactics one insurance company is using in advising its customers (WVCBP included).

While efforts to repeal Obamacare continue on what seems like a weekly basis, a new poll shows that most people support the key provisions in the health care reform law. Outlining these in this blog post, Brandon explains why Obamacare is not the train wreak opponents would like you to believe.

In the News

Last week’s Brighter Future forum really captured the media’s attention and perhaps the best headline came with this Daily Mail editorial which was a quasi-endorsement for the need for economic diversification recommended at the forum: “Not your grandfather’s economy.”

Registration Open for Policy Symposium

The WVCBP is sponsoring the Our Children, Our Future: 2013 Policy Symposium, Tuesday September 24-25. The WVCBP will host strategy sessions on increasing the minimum wage (9:30 AM-12:00 PM), the State Earned Income Tax Credit (1:00 PM-3:30 PM), and the Future Fund (4:00-6:30PM) during the Symposium at the Culture Center in Charleston on September 24. On Wednesday, September 25, attendees will present to the Joint Committee on Children’s Issues in the Senate Judiciary Room. An optional lunch training on local action will round out the afternoon of September 25.

To attend, please e-mail OurChildrenSymposium@gmail.com with the subject heading “NOMINATION” and include answers to the following questions:

  • Name of Nominee:
  • E-mail address of Nominee: 
  • Phone # of Nominee:
  • Session(s) the nominee would add value to through their participation (please select no more than one session per time slot):
  • Why should this person participate in this Session or Sessions?
  • What unique perspective or resources could this person bring to this Session or Sessions?
  • Name and E-mail of the Nominator (if different from the Nominee)
  • Are you requesting a travel scholarship for your nominee? For how much? (A limited number of travel scholarships, max $250, will be available based on need.)

The Train Wreck That Isn’t

Obamacare isn’t perfect and I don’t hesitate to admit it.  Recently, however, there has been a number of opponents referring to it as a “train wreck.”  They say it will put a government bureaucrat between you and your doctor, that it is driving health care costs up, and that people won’t support it.  

Fortunately, we need not fear Chicken Little’s cries that the train is wrecking because all of these criticisms are just plain wrong.  Let’s look at the facts. 

Thomas_Tank_Engine_1First, since the dawn of health insurance, insurers have been telling you which doctors you can see and for what ailments.  Insurers, not the government, negotiate contracts with hospitals and physicians and create their own network of providers.  If the doctor you want to see is not in that network, your insurer will cover little, if any, of the bill.  This is the free market at work, no hospital or physician is required to accept a particular insurer, private or public, and no insurer is required to include a particular doctor.  Obamacare, or the Affordable Care Act (ACA), doesn’t change any of this – networks will continue to be decided between insurers and providers.  One thing the ACA does do is require that almost all Americans have some form of health insurance and is making subsidies, or discounts, available to most people to help pay for it.  That’s where the government involvement ends, however, so if your doctor isn’t in your network, call your insurer. 

Secondly, for all of the talk about the train wreck, lots of good news about the ACA has been coming out over the last few months, especially regarding cost.  Rates that have been released across the country for plans that are going to be sold in the state Marketplaces, or health insurance exchanges, have continually been coming in under original projections.  Although rates for West Virginia have yet to be released, there is good reason to suspect that they will be affordable for individuals and families, especially when considering the subsidies.  Recent studies have also shown that the current rate of growth in health care costs is at its lowest since the 1960s, very good news for the future considering health care has grown to account for nearly 18 percent of every dollar spent, up from just 11 percent 20 years ago.

Finally, while public support has dropped to record lows when asked about “Obamacare,” the individual provisions within the ACA remain very popular.  A tracking poll (below) done by the Kaiser Family Foundation in March found that 81 percent of respondents support closing the Medicare doughnut hole, 80 percent support the creation of state health insurance exchanges, 76 percent support extending dependent coverage until age 26, 76 percent support providing subsidy assistance to low- and moderate-income households, and 66 percent support prohibiting insurance companies from turning someone away.  This is strong evidence that opponents have been winning the vocal battle over Obamacare in the media while the actual response in Main Street households is overwhelmingly favorable.

Kaiser Tracking Poll

It’s worth considering what it means when opponents like Rep. Shelley Moore Capito and Rep. David McKinley vote for a full repeal of the law.  Essentially, they are trying to overturn a law that prevents insurers from denying you coverage for a pre-existing health condition, allows your children to stay on your health plan, removes lifetime and annual maximums from your plan, sets limits on the amount that any individual or family has to pay out of pocket, provides help in purchasing if you can’t find affordable coverage through your or your spouse’s employer, and is being shown to help keep costs down.

So don’t be fooled by those folks out there calling it a train wreck – chances are they actually don’t even know what they’re talking about. 

How Much Should You Be Making?

Over Labor Day weekend, the Economic Policy Institute released a handy tool, based on their inequality.is project, that shows you how much you would be making today, if wages had kept up with productivity over that last three decades.

After WWII, wages and productivity grew hand in hand. As workers produced more, they earned more. But as we talked about in our State of Working West Virginia reports and elsewhere, since the late 1970s, workers are working and creating more, but their wages no longer grow along with their productivity. Instead, the rewards of increased productivity and a growing economy have been enjoyed only by the wealthiest among us, creating a growing problem of income inequality.

The tool created by EPI, which you can find here, simply shows how much more you should be making if wages across the economy had continued to grow with productivity since 1979. For example, a median wage earner in West Virginia earned $32,198 in 2012, if they worked full time. But if wages had grown along with increases productivity, that worker should have earned $51,830, a difference of almost $20,000.

In another example, a full-time minimum-wage worker earns $15,080 annually. But if wages grew with productivity, that worker would be earning $27,501, or the equivalent of $13.22 an hour.

Take a look, put in your income, and find out how much you should be making.

Pay Us More Money and We’ll Protect You From Obamacare

The Big, Bad, Scary Wolf that is Obamacare is coming after the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy.  At least that’s what our insurance provider wants us to think.  

In a letter sent to the office a couple of weeks ago, Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield plays the Obamacare fear card, and then, somewhat astonishingly, offers to renegotiate our existing contract for “only” a five percent increase.  The move wreaks of inappropriate opportunism.

Insurance Letter

The letter opens by stating that many employers are uncertain about the effects of the Affordable Care Act (which is true).  Playing to this uncertainty, it then suggests that our premiums will increase, while we face new fees, and employees will lose benefits.  Granted, they don’t outright say that this will happen but the insinuation is clear as day.

After having fully scared the pants off the reader at this point, Highmark comes through to save the day with a seemingly generous, altruistic offer:

“We are pleased to inform you that your group will be able to maintain your current benefits through November 30, 2014 if you elect to “end” your coverage and start new coverage effective December 1, 2013, for only a 5 percent increase to your current rates.” [emphasis mine]

The letter continues that opting to take-up this offer would mean that deductibles and out-of-pocket maximums would reset.  Finally, to take advantage of this opportunity, all we need to do is submit the acceptance form (with a pre-paid envelope thoughtfully included) by October 1st, ironically the very same day that enrollment in the ACA officially opens. 

There are three serious problems with this letter: first, it’s intentionally misleading by suggesting that our premiums will go up under the ACA when the opposite may very much be true.  Additionally, for a small organization like ours, it’s likely that beginning in 2014 we will be able to find a better deal on the Marketplace than off of it.  It’s evident that Highmark recognizes this, which is exactly why they are trying to scare us and other organizations into submission now.  

Secondly, not only are they fear-mongering in an attempt to lock us into a new contract before we have an opportunity to evaluate potentially better options under the ACA, they’re using this scare-tactic to convince us to accept yet another rate increase.  Our insurance contract was just renewed this past August with a 9.97% increase at the time.  That means that accepting this offer would be a total 15.47% rate increase in just two months’ time, while simultaneously resetting deductibles and out-of-pocket maximums for all of our employees–a double whammy.  

Finally, they conveniently leave out what happens if we choose not to accept this offer, which would be…absolutely nothing.  In fact, not accepting this offer would mean that we are choosing to avoid a guaranteed five percent rate increase while giving ourselves more options going forward.  While the effects of the ACA are uncertain, there is a lot of evidence recently to suggest that rates may actually go down after 2014.  Even though the letter suggests that we should be “prepared now by getting all the information you need and being aware of all your options,” locking in to a new contract means we won’t be able to get that information before renewing.  The letter and an accompanying email from our insurance agent suggest that we have to “take action” with no indication that an option we have is to take no action.  

Even though insurance providers are poised to be the big winners of health care reform with millions of new customers, they do face a lot of uncertainty along with everyone else as the ACA is fully implemented.  Nevertheless, this tactic of trying to play into the fears of Obamacare for their own benefit strikes me as disingenuous and, quite honestly, a little bit slimy.  Unfortunately, I have a feeling it will work on many organizations.