WVU in the News: Politicians who want to ditch Obamacare say they’ll protect West Virginians with preexisting conditions. But it’s not that easy.

A blurry eye and a numb foot. Those were Rachel Montgomery’s earliest symptoms when she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis about nine years ago. When she’s on medication, she lives normally. Without it, she loses her balance. Fatigue sets in and numbness spreads throughout her body. 

Montgomery is one of approximately 382,000 nonelderly West Virginians living with a preexisting condition. 

Before the Affordable Care Act (also known as Obamacare) was enacted, insurance companies could deny coverage to West Virginians like Montgomery because of their medical histories. And this didn’t just apply to rare autoimmune disorders like multiple sclerosis. More than a third of West Virginians under age 65 have a medical condition that would have previously made it difficult to get affordable private insurance: anything from depression to cancer, diabetes to heart disease or asthma. Even pregnancy could be a reason for denied coverage or increased rates.

But even if insurers do want to operate in West Virginia, there have to be healthy people to help cover the costs of the sick.

Lindsay Allen, a professor of health policy at West Virginia University, said that’s one of the reasons why the individual mandate that required people to have insurance was important in the first place, and why federal subsidies that encourage people to buy health insurance are critical.

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