The Legislature is back in session, which means it’s time for the return of “The Good, the Bad and the Stupid” — a weekly roundup of bills moving through the state’s capitol, categorized by whether we believe the legislation to be something good for the state, bad for the state or just plain stupid. All three of the bills below have already passed the Senate and await consideration in the House of Delegates. Without further ado, here’s the first “The Good, the Bad and the Stupid” of 2023.
Good: SB 127, to increase Public Employee Insurance Agency reimbursement rates. WVU Medicine’s Wheeling Hospital announced recently that it would no longer accept PEIA come July, and WVU Medicine indicated that some of its other facilities may follow suit. A WVU Medicine spokesperson told Wheeling’s The Intelligencer that “PEIA’s practice of underpaying West Virginia hospitals and not covering their actual costs has had an especially hard impact on Wheeling Hospital, which has lost $56 million over the past three years.”
SB 127 will increase the reimbursement rate to 110% of what Medicare pays. In simpler terms, PEIA will pay hospitals slightly more than what Medicare pays for the same services, but still less than most private insurances. SB 127 does not solve PEIA’s larger issues — like lack of a permanent funding mechanism — which we hope the Legislature will address this session. However, this is certainly a step in the right direction, and it will hopefully prevent PEIA users from losing access to their current doctors.
Bad: SB 126, to split the Department of Health and Human Resources into three separate agencies: The Department of Health, Department of Human Services and the Department of Health Facilities. This one borders on stupid, largely because the Legislature is disregarding a top-to-bottom review that clearly states the best way to solve the DHHR’s problems isn’t to break it up, it’s to improve communication and accountability.
While making the agencies smaller might seem like a good way to do that, it’s more likely to decrease communication between departments and workers. Since the issues the DHHR handles are so closely intertwined, breaking it into separate agencies means people seeking services will likely have to bounce back and forth between departments, likely receiving conflicting information or instructions.
Plus, insisting on breaking up the DHHR now makes it seem like the Legislature is throwing a tantrum. Legislators didn’t get their way last year, so they’re going to trash the report, which taxpayers spent over $1 million to commission, and split up the DHHR before it even has a chance to implement changes. Nothing about that seems like good governing.
Stupid: SB 130, the “Anti-Racism Act” resurrected after it failed last year on a technicality. Known as SB 498 at the time, it passed both chambers, but the Senate didn’t concur with House changes until the last possible second. The Senate president was still speaking when the clock struck midnight and the session ended before SB 498 had formally passed. Unfortunately, the Legislature has decided it’s not ready to let go of last year’s petty culture-war fights, so here we are again.
The “Anti-Racism Act” is a response to “critical race theory” — which West Virginia schools don’t teach — but in practice forbids educators from teaching or saying anything related to race (think, slavery, segregation, civil rights) that makes someone feel uncomfortable. It enforces this not-a-prohibition-but-actually-a-prohibition by allowing anyone who feels offended to file a complaint.
When the Anti-Racism Act failed by a fluke last year, the Legislature should have taken it as a sign from the universe and left this bill in the legislative graveyard.