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This Week's Column:

A Repeal or a Death Sentence?

By Melissa Toothman

To say there are some who would literally die without the Affordable Care Act, a.k.a. Obamacare, is not an overdramatic testament. For many Americans, it's a very true statement, and I know of one such person in Buckhannon that it could be reality for.
The repeal doesn't mean insurance coverage will come crashing down all at once. It doesn't even mean there won't be a replacement plan, although incoming President Donald Trump and lawmakers have yet to elaborate on such a plan, following the vague and famous Trump adage of "It'll be great!"
Members of the general public, and even the lawmakers reviewing and voting on repeal legislation, are still in the dark about how a new plan will be any better than Obamacare, because they don't have the replacement details in front of them—and that is not okay. Before we take measures to begin the repeal process, we should be more transparent about what we're going to do to improve the plan.
Why is a repeal even necessary? How did it ever get on the table of Congress when even many Democrats still claim to be open to reforming the ACA?
Maybe some elements of the ACA will be implemented under a new plan; maybe they won't. Maybe the flaws with ACA will finally be patched, or maybe they won't. It's the uncertainty I have a problem with. It's not like the American people are asking for the codes to detonate nuclear bombs or to publicize detailed plans to destroy our enemies. We just want more than blind assurances that the replacement plan truly will be "great," and represent patients' needs, rather than corporate and political interests.
For the protection and privacy of the people I am about to describe, I will not list names. They know who they are.
She's the mother of a good friend of mine. She's fighting leukemia compounded by a lengthy list of other health issues. The family told me just one of her treatments estimates to thousands of dollars each month, but it would buy her a few more years with her family.
Now it might not. What would you do for just a few more years with a loved one?
There is a viral post circulating on Social Media. Someone from somewhere whose dad is allegedly starting Chemo would pay $1,003.49 cents for just one of his medications, but with the ACA, he only pays $3. The original poster photographed a section of the medical bill.
The woman I mentioned earlier pays the same $3 for her Chemo, which would otherwise cost her $11,000, according to the family. At one point, that same medication would have cost $15,000. Regardless of what side of politics you are on, it can't be argued that the ACA has saved lives.
Even so, it's not perfect, and many of its supporters agree. Someone's medical well-being should not have to be a political compromise.
The repeal of the Affordable Care Act doesn't just affect people like the woman I mentioned, who can't afford treatments with extensive price tags, and likely wouldn't find an insurance provider willing to enroll her post-ACA. It will affect the millions of people nationwide who will lose their insurance.
People who have pre-existing conditions could be refused insurance coverage. Limitations and caps could be placed on lifetime benefits. Young adults under the age of 26, in a time when getting on their feet after school is no simple task, may not be able to appear on their parent's insurance. Additionally, preventative measures, such as cancer screenings and even flu shots, may no longer be free to those who seek them. States could also loose federal aide to assist with uncompensated care and low income patients.
According to www.savemycare.org, 184,000 West Virginians could lose health care coverage, hospitals could lose billions of dollars, both the state and local government could raise taxes to make up for losses in the Medicaid program and more than 29,000 state residents could lose their monthly advanced premium tax credit that assists them in paying for insurance.
According to a Kaiser Family Foundation analysis, 27 percent of adults in the U.S. Under the age of 65 "have health conditions that would likely leave them uninsurable if they applied for individual market coverage under pre-ACA underwriting practices that existed in nearly all states."
As a result of not having health insurance, 45,000 Americans lives were lost each year, according to a study by Harvard Medical School and Cambridge Health Alliance published in 2009 by the American Journal of Public Health, as initial debates over the Affordable Care Act ensued.
As Bob Cesca points out in an article published Monday morning at www.salon.com, that breaks down into 3,750 deaths every month, which equates to a new 9/11 every 30 days.
Why would insurance companies prefer not to cover the people who most need the coverage in the first place? Because paying out is not profitable.
Insurance companies that accept only the young and healthy are assured that the need for medical treatment is rare, thus the insured are paying in more than they're getting out.
I was reading online posts on my friends' Facebook walls where people were either venting their frustration or praise over the repeal of ACA. To those outright celebrating it, I ask why it's so hard for one person to care about a stranger?
One lady drew the conclusion that the ACA was not much help for her or her other various family members, who all have to pay very large deductibles because of exemptions in the code.
The ACA is far from perfect for everyone, and definitely needs revision for improvement, but should it really be repealed before a backup is in place? It's like being bundled up in the middle of a blizzard and complaining the clothes someone has on aren't warm enough. So instead of adding more or finding something better later, you strip naked in the beating snow and hope something warmer will come along.
This decision particularly affects the elderly, children and anyone who has what is defined as a pre-existing condition. It isn't about whether or not someone is working, because even many of those who work, cannot afford the high price tag associated with medical treatment. Most people don't choose to get sick, or be sick. I don't know anyone personally who makes $11,000 a month.
Republicans want to repeal the ACA, yet states won by Donald Trump in the General Election have the highest Obamacare enrollment rates. Something doesn't add up.
I want to hear your thoughts. Do you think ACA should be outright repealed or should it be revised? You can write to me in private or send a Letter to the Editor. Please specify which you want your correspondence to be. Letters to the editor should follow our policy.
I can be reached at news@westondemocrat.com or 304-269-1600, ext. 104

Last Week's Column:

A New Year, A New Tune

By Melissa Toothman

I've never been very big on creating a New Year's resolution, at least not for the sake of making one. In many ways, starting a new year is like making a new beginning. Many people vow to lose weight, break a habit, spend more time with family, etc.
2016 was a crazy year. Many of our favorite celebrities lost their lives. Many other good people lost their lives. Both political parties seemingly collapsed in on themselves during the presidential election. For Lewis County, many new faces have been elected into various political seats, making it evident that people want change.
Change isn't always a bad thing. It seems to be the premise of every New Year's resolution. While I have resolutions on a personal level, I also have "resolutions" for The Weston Democrat. I put the term "resolutions" in quotations here because these are steps we have been taking before the new year, but steps we will continue into 2017.
One of these "resolutions" is to provide more sports coverage. Typically, our sports coverage has filled one or two pages, but lately, we've had to squeeze in a third sports-packed page somewhere, which is a good sign that we're on our way to our goal.
To help move things along, we have hired a new sports writer, Nathan White. Nathan is a student at Lewis County High School, and he has been working a freelancer, taking photos for us. However, in last week's edition, and now this one, you may have noticed his byline in sports.
Until now, we've only had one part-time sports reporter, which significantly limits the possible coverage that we had. We couldn't make it to every game. Even with two, that will be a challenge.
We are very thankful for the information that the community sends us. We have had many submitted wrestling photos, stories and stats sent to us that have been featured prominently in our paper, recently. If you are at an away game and would like to send pictures and information, you may submit that to news@westondemocrat.com. Eventually, I'd like to have a sports address set up.
We have teamed up with The Record Delta and the Mountain Statesman newspapers to help further expand our coverage. For instance, if one of our local teams is playing in Buckhannon or Grafton, and the sports writers for these publications already will be there, we might borrow their work for our publication, which could free our sports writers up to go elsewhere.
Additionally, we have started a weekly sports calendar. While we have published schedules by team, when those are available, we understand that not everyone has seen that information or may have kept the schedules. So each week, our goal is to include what games are coming up for the week. It's a master schedule that meshes multiple teams and sports in the county as a reminder of what is going on.
Athlete of the Week is making a comeback. Our sports writers have been selecting an athlete to feature every week. Similarly to our Up Close and Personal features, the athlete of the week answers questions that help our readers become more familiar with them. The athlete is chosen for performance during play, but also must agree to be photographed. While we would love to recognize every one of our amazing players, we only get to choose one each week.
Again, we can't get to every game, especially the away games. Our goal is to try to cover sports more evenly, and our reporters have divvied up responsibilities toward this goal.
Another goal is to have better organization within the newspaper. With the current system, news gets haphazardly placed. I've already implemented some organizational tools that will improve this with time, and there should already be some improvement on the placement of news in this edition, although it is not perfect by any means.
We are doing our best to pre-plan placement of content we know we'll have, while saving space for the unexpected. This isn't a business where everything goes as planned.
We already have special pages designated in the paper, such as the church page, Lifestyles, Sports, County Scene, the opinion page, etc. However, my goal is to have additional pages that are designated. These pages might not have a header, but will be space that is designated for specific types of news, such as community happenings/announcements, senior news, school-related news, business and economics, etc. Any of these categories could have a front page headliner, which will be determined on a case by case basis.
As much as I would like to concentrate these silent categories together, it is no easy task getting everything of one category to fit on one or two pages in the paper. Therefore, overflow has been placed where it otherwise would not go.
Despite having a budget or rough outline of what we'd like to do with the placement of stories in a newspaper, content inevitably gets bumped around and doesn't go exactly as planned. Please excuse the dust as we improve our organization of content.
The front page is the last page decided upon, because we have to plan around what could be breaking news. News waits for no one, and there is no reason to do more than a rough outline of what is front page worthy before press time. At any moment, a perfectly front page worthy story could get bumped inside.
Typically, we will have three sections. On rare—and necessary—occasions, we'll have four. Currently, with the numerous legal ads that are included this week and last week, content already has been bumped around to places it otherwise would not go. Although I say we have and are working toward better organization, don't let these few editions be examples of what that ultimately will look like. After the legals have ran their course, we'll be able to do more.


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