Under the Gold Dome

The 2021 West Virginia state legislative session has come to a close. Against a public health emergency, delegates and senators introduced several bills related to health care and the social safety net that will impact families across the state, especially those with lower incomes. Here is a recap of the social and health policies that legislators discussed during the 2021 season. 

Bills That Passed

Extending Postpartum Medicaid Coverage to 12 Months (HB 2266)

HB 2266 extends postpartum Medicaid coverage from 60 days to one year. Additionally, the legislature increased the income threshold for this population from 138% of the federal poverty level (FPL) to 185% FPL. 

Drug Screening for Temporary Public Assistance (SB 387)

SB 387 extends the drug screening pilot program for recipients of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), also knows as WV Works. Governor Justice signed this bill into law, which extends the screening program through 2026 despite overwhelming evidence of its ineffectiveness regarding reduced substance use among enrollees or improved outcomes. 

Restrictions on Harm Reduction Programs (SB 334)

SB 334 implements several new requirements for harm reduction services and was swiftly signed into law by Governor Justice. Restrictions include adding barcodes to syringes, following a strict one-to-one needle exchange, and mandating that participants have West Virginia identification. 

Restructuring Local Health Departments (SB 12)

SB 12 will give elected officials more control over local health departments (LHDs). This law generally requires that changes LHDs make receive approval from a county commissioner or municipalities. Health experts anticipate that this law will further hamper their ability to provide services and implement regulations that positively impact community health outcomes.

bills we are still watching

Establishing Paternity for DHHR Benefits (SB 35)

SB 35 could have required that families establish paternity before receiving benefits from the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHR). These benefits include Medicaid, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), TANF, and more. By establishing paternity, the state aimed to secure more child payments. The bill's language mandates that these payments count toward income, reducing the amount of aid available to the primary caregiver and children. Furthermore, such programs may disregard family dynamics, non-monetary aid, and valid reasons for not establishing paternity- including domestic violence.

Requiring Child Support Compliance for Public Benefit (HB 2911)

HB 2911 would make public benefits contingent on child support compliance. Under this bill, families could not receive public assistance if they did not cooperate with child support enforcement. Like SB 35, HB 2911 aims to ensure that more parents pay child support.

Reducing the Cost of Prescription Drugs (HB 2166)

HB 2166 would make prescription drugs more affordable for consumers. The bill included two potential means of achieving this goal: first, by essentially subsidizing drug costs to reduce out-of-pocket payments by patients, or second, by reducing the cost to the carrier. Both a direct and indirect means of reaching consumers would meaningfully reduce the cost of prescription drugs for those who need them. 

Medicaid Buy-In Program (HB 3001)

The bipartisan HB 3001 would have allowed West Virginians to pay to enroll in a Medicaid-like program. Anyone in the state could enroll in the program, but individuals under 200% FPL would be eligible to receive subsidized insurance. By tapping into an existing network, such a program would be cost effective, making health care accessible to more people. Under the proposed model, an additional 26,000 West Virginians could receive health coverage.

Prohibiting Short-Term Health Insurance Plans (SB 257)

SB 257 would have restored an Obama-era regulation prohibiting insurance companies from offering short-term, limited-duration (STLD) health insurance policies. STLDs are plans that last less than a calendar year and tend to have low premiums and high deductibles. The structure makes them very affordable, but enrollees may end up paying astronomical out-of-pocket payments for a medical event – even for interventions that the plans cover.

Permitting Interstate Telemedicine (HB 2004)

HB 2004 could allow licensed out-of-state health care practitioners to offer virtual appointments to West Virginia residents. This bill would increase the number of practitioners permitted to see West Virginia patients. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, telemedicine has become increasingly crucial for reducing wait and travel time. By increasing the number of health care providers in the state, this bill could allow more individuals to access care from their homes.