FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: GOV. TOMBLIN DECIDES LOW-INCOME PATIENTS ALREADY HAVE ENOUGH FREE HEALTH CARE AVAILABLE TO THEM

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Contact: Charles Siler

202-487-8652

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: GOV. TOMBLIN DECIDES LOW-INCOME PATIENTS ALREADY HAVE ENOUGH FREE HEALTH CARE AVAILABLE TO THEM

VETOES BILL TO BRING $8 MILLION IN FREE HEALTH CARE TO POOR WEST VIRGINIANS

In a surprising move that shocked West Virginia’s free clinics and health care providers, West Virginia’s governor vetoed legislation that would have brought millions in free health care to the state’s poorest citizens.

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin has declared that since the state’s health care professionals “are already authorized, encouraged, and in some instances mandated to donate their time and skills” to provide free care to low-income patients, it would be “unnecessary” to encourage and reward them for giving more. Last week, Tomblin put yet another roadblock in the way of needy West Virginians seeking quality medical care by vetoing a bill that would have brought an estimated $8 million and 14,000 visits a year in free health care to the state.

The “Volunteer Care” bill was modeled after a Florida program that has been responsible for bringing nearly $1.3 billion of free care to poor individuals in that state. The West Virginia Legislature, West Virginia State Medical Association, and the WV Association of Free & Charitable Clinics were all disappointed by Tomblin’s surprise veto, which came after sitting on the bill for two weeks without contacting clinics or the health care community.

SB 658, sponsored by Sen. Ed Gaunch, would have protected those doctors, nurses, dentists, mental health providers, and more by shielding them from lawsuits while they provide free care, unless they are grossly negligent or commit willful misconduct. The idea is such a clear win-win for the state that it passed both the Senate and the House unanimously, after being approved by both Senate and House health committees, which are led by experienced health care providers who understand the need for this legislation.

The program would have improved access to care by incentivizing providers to donate their time and talents serving low-income, uninsured, and underinsured patients by offering modest credits towards their license renewal. Tomblin criticized this token ‘thank-you’ provision as being redundant and creating a potential threat to the training received by state health care professionals. Notably, his veto message did not address the challenges faced by the more than 330,000 West Virginians living in poverty in accessing the care they need.

“I’ve never seen a governor veto a bill with so much promise to help their state’s needy citizens at such a low cost to the state, and I can’t express just how frustrated and confused we are with Gov. Tomblin’s decision,” said Andrew Brown, senior fellow with FGA.

The dissatisfaction is echoed by the State Medical Association:

“The WVSMA was very disappointed to learn of the Governor’s veto of SB 658, which would have allowed licensed professionals to donate their time to care of indigent and needy in clinical setting. We believe this legislation would incentivize physicians to further donate their time and medical services, in a responsible and professional manner, to those most in need without fear of liability or unnecessary reprisal. Despite the fact that most physicians already provide charitable care to needy West Virginians on a daily basis, the inclusion of CME credit toward their biannual CME licensure renewal requirements was an additional but important incentive to expand this volunteer service but also recognize physicians for what they do to increase access to care for all West Virginians.”

The Association of Free & Charitable Clinics also weighed in on Tomblin’s veto:

“The WV Association of Free & Charitable Clinics (WVAFCC) is disappointed with the veto of SB658. The legislation would have expanded the pool of volunteer providers, created the incentive for providers to volunteer with modest CEU credits for their donated time, and would have enhanced medical and dental access to the over 40,000 underinsured and uninsured patients throughout the WVAFCC member network. We applaud Senator Gaunch and the legislature for their hard work on this piece of legislation.”

Hopefully the Legislature will renew their push to bring this common-sense program to West Virginia next session.

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To schedule an interview, please contact Charles Siler with the Foundation for Government Accountability at (202) 487-8652 or charles@thefga.org.