Editorials, Opinion

The Good, the Bad and the Stupid 10

For today’s edition of The Good, the Bad and the Stupid,” we’re going to look at a handful of bills that we consider to be mixed bags: They have both good and bad aspects, and a few have some stupid provisions. In other words, these bills are complicated. 

○ SB 268, relating to PEIA. This bill basically became the catchall for various proposals related to the Public Employee Insurance Agency. The least controversial aspect of the bill is its increased reimbursement rate to 110% of what Medicare pays medical providers. The more controversial aspects of the bill included replacing the spousal opt-in with a spousal buy-in and rebalancing the cost-sharing formula — resulting in a premium increase — both of which are considered necessary to keep the program solvent. This is the complicated part. 

On the one hand, the changes in SB 268 bring PEIA closer in line to private insurances. Those of us who have private health insurance have come to expect annual premium increases and narrowing eligibility requirements — like having to buy-in for spousal coverage. While it’s understandably upsetting to see your insurance costs skyrocket overnight, people on PEIA will likely find little sympathy from those in the private sector. 

On the other hand, the Legislature and governor approved a $2,300 raise for most public employees, ostensibly to compensate for the increased cost of living. However, that raise will be mostly, if not entirely, wiped out by the PEIA premium increase.  

○ HB 2002, increasing the adoption tax credit, establishing eligibility of adopted children for early intervention services and establishing the West Virginia Mothers and Babies Pregnancy Support Program. To paraphrase Delegate Evan Hansen, D-Monongalia, HB 2002 is two parts good and one part bad. 

The adoption tax credit will increase from $4,000 to $5,000 when a child under 18 is adopted by a West Virginia taxpayer.   While it would have been better if the Legislature had taken steps to make adoption less expensive in general, this is a good first step. 

The other good aspect is that, effective this summer, adopted children and their adoptive families “shall be eligible for any early intervention services provided for families which may be offered by the Department of Health and Human Resources.” Providing additional support for children and families is never a bad thing, and we’re glad to see the programs being extended to adoptive families. 

Which brings us to the bad part: establishing the West Virginia Mothers and Babies Pregnancy Support Program. It might sound like a good thing, but what it essentially does is funnel taxpayer dollars to “crisis pregnancy centers.” These often market themselves as reproductive health clinics, but they are usually religiously affiliated anti-abortion groups. They are under no legal obligation to provide accurate information about pregnancy, abortion or contraception, and their medical qualifications are usually suspect. The bill also forbids state funding to any group or clinic that provides abortion services or refers women to abortion-related services.  

○ HB 3018, which sets the minimum age for marriage at 16 years old, with parental consent. The original bill set a firm marriage age limit at 18 — no exceptions. As we’ve previously addressed, West Virginia does not technically have an age minimum for marriage, because anyone at any age can get married with a circuit court waiver. 

In voicing his opposition to the original bill, Sen. Mike Stuart (R-Kanawha) said his mother married at 16 and “six months later, I came along.” Rather than illustrating his mother’s maturity, Stuart’s anecdote highlights the way underage marriage is often used to hide a minor’s pregnancy out of wedlock — or at least make it more socially acceptable.  

To keep the bill from being scrapped completely, legislators came up with the 16-and-parental-consent compromise. We’re not sure this goes far enough, but we’re glad legislators did something, because doing nothing would have been unacceptable.