Ellen Allen: Health care in WV riddled with complexities (Opinion)


By: Ellen Allen

January 26, 2024

The state of health care in West Virginia is a complex and nuanced issue riddled with challenges and compounded by policy decisions, environmental and socioeconomic factors beyond the control or scope of health care professionals themselves.

Lawmakers continually talk about and campaign on jobs and bringing businesses to the state. However, businesses won’t locate here if they can’t find the workers they need, and that means healthy, trained and drug free. Unhealthy communities serve as a major barrier to growing the economy, and it puts a major strain on the government.

West Virginians for Affordable Health Care is laser focused on protecting and preserving Medicaid, which is a critical component of West Virginia’s health care infrastructure, because we recognize how inextricably linked Medicaid is to the health care infrastructure of our state.

This is how we decide to do our work — along with consumer voices and other organizations advocating for sound public policy, and why Medicaid is always at the forefront of our policy agenda.

Medicaid is the state’s largest health insurance program — and at a projected federal/state budget of more than about $5.2 billion, Medicaid supports not only West Virginia residents but also the health care infrastructure through more than $4 billion in federal matching dollars. This makes Medicaid a major economic force.

The first step in preserving and protecting health Medicaid is to fill the decrease of federal match with state dollars. That’s why we’re asking the Legislature for a one-time, supplemental appropriation to cover the $114 million deficit — the first request of its kind in nearly 10 years.

With the end of the public health emergency, more than 100,000 West Virginians have lost their health care coverage and another 39,000 children have, as well. WVAHC supports administrative adjustments that will reduce people being erroneously unenrolled and make enrollment much easier. The goal? Make sure every West Virginian has access to affordable, high-quality health care.

Studies have shown that social determinants of health, such as income, housing, environmental exposure, education and race, all have an effect on the health status of a population. WVAHC advocates for the promotion of the health status of West Virginians by using Medicaid funding and buying power to help fund social determinants of health.

A bill that could strengthen the health of West Virginians is Senate Bill 374. It proposes to raise the Medicaid Dental Benefit from $1,000 to $2,000 a year for adult recipients. Dental and vision health are inseparable from health in general and we’re pleased to see this step being taken to help the many West Virginians who desperately need dental services.

While the state’s version of the program offers full dental and vision benefits for people under age 21, it treats these services as ancillary for adults and puts strict limits on coverage.

These gaps have real health and workforce implications for West Virginians. Many are forced to choose between incurring expensive bills or ignoring important health problems.

As you can see, it’s all inextricably linked: our personal health; the health of our communities; and the health of the West Virginia economy. Let’s get it done.