The original version of this story reported the November numbers of West Virginians who have signed up for health insurance via the Affordable Care Act. As of the end of December, there are 4,889 people enrolled in private Qualified Health Plans, and 122,000 enrollees in Medicaid due to ACA expansion since Oct. 1. There are at least 18,000 young adults 19-25 on their parents’ plans in West Virginia due to ACA expansion.
Evan Jenkins may not be a household name in the eastern part of West Virginia’s 3rd Congressional District, but the 53-year-old state senator from Cabell County is no stranger to state politics.
Jenkins, who is making a bid for Congress, has been in the House of Delegates for three terms and is serving his third term in the state’s upper chamber.
A little more than a decade ago, a Republican challenging Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., for his seat in the U.S. House of Representatives would have been a nominal candidate at best. But Republicans have been gaining ground in the district, as the state — one of only two states Democrat George McGovern won in 1972 against Richard Nixon — has flushed red in presidential races since 2000. Democrat Barack Obama did not win a single West Virginia county in 2012.
He said he registered as a Democrat when he was 18, following his family's political bent. But over time, he said, he realized he could no longer be involved in the party.
“I thought about and prayed about what I see happening; I simply could not sit idly by. This is a different kind of Democrat going to Washington,” Jenkins said. “I haven’t changed. My values, my priorities for the people of West Virginia hasn’t changed.”
Jenkins is hitting Rahall hard in television advertising that links the congressman to the unpopular president, and further linking him with Democratic names vilified in opposition advertising — Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev.
“(Rahall’s) very first vote would be for Nancy Pelosi for speaker (of the House). I will not vote for Nancy Pelosi for speaker,” Jenkins said. “People are feeling the impact of the agenda and policies that Obama has pushed for and that Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid have supported and that Rahall has been a part of.”
He did not say if he would cast a vote for current speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, if Republicans maintain a majority in the House of Representatives, which Jenkins said he expects to happen.
Since Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., is not seeking re-election, Rahall would be the most senior member of the state’s congressional delegation. Jenkins said seniority isn’t an issue in Congress.
“I think what’s most important is not how long you’ve been there or where you rank on the chart. What’s most important (are) your views and visions, what you stand for and what you’re going to work to accomplish,” Jenkins said. “I don’t view public service and these offices as lifetime appointments.
“My view is go in, work very hard to make a difference, try to improve things,” he continued. “And look for where you can have the best impact.”
An attorney and the CEO of the West Virginia Medical Foundation, Jenkins said his “best impact” in his political career so far has been in legislation he’s either sponsored or helped pass:
— Creation of the Hatfields and McCoys Trail, which Jenkins said has helped the economy and tourism in the southern part of the state
— Newborn infant hearing screening, which calls for a low-cost test to detect hearing impairment, leading to treatment and more normal development, he said
— Several bills to help prevent drug abuse, particularly the tamper-resistant program and closing a loophole that limited law enforcement and regulators in pursuing pill mill doctors
— The sex offender registry and a companion database that mandates convicted sex offenders register screen names.
“I’m proud of my record,” Jenkins said. “I’ll put my conservative record up against anyone’s.”
Rahall and Jenkins agree on a few issues. Both support gun owners’ rights, both say they are “pro-life,” both say they are “pro-jobs” and “pro-business.”
The two part company on the Affordable Care Act. Rahall says he believes the bill has more good than bad. Jenkins disagrees wholeheartedly.
“Obamacare, the ACA, is a disaster,” he said. “We could see from the very early stages the end product of this bill was a massive government takeover of the health care delivery system.”
Jenkins said the bill is a “one-size-fits-all” law designed to increase health care access just doesn’t fit West Virginia.
“We have a high-needs state,” Jenkins said. Only one insurance carrier — Highmark West Virginia — qualified to be in the exchange program. In addition, the state Medicaid program expects to have more than 60,000 new enrollees thanks to its expansion that began Jan. 1.
Those two things add up to fewer enrollees in the exchange as Jenkins sees it, meaning “we have a net loss of insurance coverage in the commercial market,” he said.
Medicaid expansion is a problem for Jenkins.
“Just because you have a card doesn’t mean there’s going to be a primary care physician, (because) most of our state is federally designated as a health professional shortage area and medically underserved,” Jenkins said.
All that, he said, is before employer-sponsored health insurance has even entered the picture. Jenkins said he isn’t sure that a “single health insurance plan” in the state meets all the essential benefits outlined in the ACA.
He thinks every policy will have to be canceled, forcing people into the health care exchange.
“The rubber is going to meet the road this year when we’re talking about real people, real coverage and the need for health care,” he said. “Big government bureaucrats will be dictating what coverage you should get, where you get that coverage and we are just at the tip of the iceberg in recognizing the problems of Obamacare by design.”
According to acasignups.net, nearly 16,000 West Virginians have applied for insurance plans through the health care exchange, with about 10,300 of them eligible to enroll either with our without financial assistance. Only 775 of those have selected a marketplace plan, the website said.
Jenkins has more sharp words for the president’s stand on the environment and coal mine permitting, or lack thereof. He doesn’t mean that industry should be completely deregulated.
“I believe we need smart regulation, smart environmental policy,” Jenkins said. “Nobody is saying we should not have any protections; we should have smart protections. It’s not an either-or option. We need a common sense approach that is fair and balanced.”
He points out the Buffalo Mountain project as an example of Environmental Protection Agency overreach. The project includes constructing a portion of the King Coal Highway in conjunction with a Consol mine site. Permits have been stalled, Jenkins said, for the last five years “because of their broader anti-coal agenda.”
“The rules and regulations are just so overwhelming, they have simply strangled the ability to move West Virginia forward,” Jenkins said.
Rahall, he said, has “given aid and comfort” to the EPA and the president’s agenda.
Jenkins said the 3rd District’s major problem is the war on coal, and a peace treaty between the industry and the EPA would alleviate the poverty found throughout the 3rd District.
According to KIDSCOUNT, 64,000 children in the district live in poverty, 15,000 of those in extreme poverty. And 94,000 children in southern West Virginia live in food-insecure homes.
“Put people back to work,” Jenkins said. “My pro-child, pro-family, pro-jobs agenda is to free up our economic and job potential in West Virginia. All the talk in Washington about extending unemployment benefits, workers’ comp benefits and raising the minimum wage; I wish they would spend as much time talking about extending the Buffalo Mountain permit. I wish they would spend as much time getting government off the backs of employers and workers so people can get back to work. That’s the greatest way to help address children in poverty.”
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