Charleston Gazette-Mail – As of publication, no cases of COVID-19 have been identified in West Virginia, but it is very likely only a matter of time until our state’s residents are affected. Read op-ed.
While the Governor’s Office and state agencies are taking this issue very seriously, this pandemic has revealed serious holes in our state’s and nation’s health system, safety net and economic infrastructure. Fortunately, there are immediate measures that we, the undersigned, call on state officials to implement to address the situation.
In the short-term:
- Begin holding daily press availability of staff of the Governor’s Office and the Bureau for Public Health. A key to preventing panic and keeping the public well-informed is the free flow of information and timely updates.
- Waive copays and coinsurance for coronavirus testing and related visits. While the Public Employees Insurance Agency has announced this policy, West Virginia should require all insurers regulated by the state to cover coronavirus testing and related treatment at 100%, without coinsurance, copays or deductibles. This is critical to ensuring that cost concerns do not become a barrier to testing or treatment. People who go without testing because of cost concerns could spread COVID-19 to their communities.
Promote telehealth. West Virginia should require insurers to conduct outreach to consumers to make sure they are aware of telehealth benefits available to them to increase testing and decrease the spread of COVID 19. Telehealth services around COVID 19 diagnoses also should be covered at 100%, without coinsurance, deductibles or copays.
- Bar utility shutoffs and evictions via executive action. Individuals and families who are financially affected by COVID-19 and the resulting economic downturn and layoffs must not have their utilities shut off. In particular, water is a critical need, as is electricity for people who rely on medical devices.
- Temporarily suspend re-determination of eligibility for federal assistance programs, as allowed. This will ensure that there is no interruption of critical medical, food or other needs and that interruptions in the state’s workforce and ability to process applications will not disrupt benefits.
- Provide good-cause exemptions for the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, or SNAP, work requirements and time limits. SNAP work requirements and time limits should be waived entirely but, in the absence of the ability to do that, West Virginia should provide good-cause exemptions to all adults known as “ABAWDs,” Able-Bodied Adults Without Dependents, ensuring access to food during this crisis. Outreach and education also should be conducted to let those who have previously been denied know they are eligible for benefits during this time.
- Utilize contingency funds to provide outreach, education and testing to people who are most likely to be affected by COVID-19, including those in homeless shelters and West Virginians who visit food pantries and senior centers. Those who are most likely to be affected by community spread need to have access to health and food benefits and testing.
- Waive the one-week waiting period for unemployment insurance benefits and “noncharge” benefits to protect employers. Suspending the waiting period will help ensure financial security among unemployed or temporarily separated workers as a result of COVID-19, while “noncharging” benefits will protect employers from bearing the brunt of the increased uptake in unemployment insurance.
Waive state policies that terminate a child’s eligibility for Child Care and Development Fund child care subsidies based on a specific number of absent days. This will allow parents to make the decision to keep sick or exposed children home, curtailing the spread of virus without jeopardizing their longer-term eligibility for child care assistance.
- Adjust payment policies to child care providers so that they are based on enrollment of children rather than attendance. This is critical in allowing sick children and parents to stay home without disrupting revenue for providers.
- Suspend charging those in our state’s prisons and jails money for phone calls. During this time while visitation is curbed, those in our prisons and jails must not be charged for staying in touch with loved ones.
In the longer term:
- Pass paid-sick-days policies.
- Protect and expand Medicaid.
- Restore funding to public health.
- Implement paid family and medical leave for public and private employees.
This was authored by multiple agencies, including the American Civil Liberties Union of West Virginia; the American Federation of Teachers — West Virginia; the American Friends Service Committee of West Virginia; Our Future West Virginia; Planned Parenthood South Atlantic; the Team for West Virginia Children; the West Virginia Center on Budget & Policy; the West Virginia Citizen Action Group; the West Virginia Education Association; West Virginians for Affordable Health Care; and West Virginia FREE.