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Health-care changes praised

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Among its recommendations for revamping the state Department of Health and Human Resources, an audit by Public Works LLC calls for combining the state Health Care Authority and the Governor's Office of Health Enhancement and Lifestyle Planning (GOHELP) into a new Office for Health Care Improvement.

That comes as vindication for one of the authors of legislation in 2006 creating GOHELP, an agency that has essentially been dormant since 2011.

"It's kind of nice to get some validation after all those years," House Health and Human Resources Chairman Don Perdue, D-Wayne, said Tuesday.

Intended to coordinate health-care reform and cost controls and to promote healthy lifestyle initiatives, GOHELP has been out of commission since acting director Martha Walker retired in August 2011.

Health-care lobbyist Thom Stevens said he believes there's many reasons why GOHELP failed to reach its expectations.

"It's a good question, why it was never able to fulfill the mission the Legislature intended," Stevens said Tuesday.

Stevens said part of the problem was timing, in that GOHELP got swept aside as state health officials' focus shifted to the federal debate leading up to passage of the Affordable Care Act.

"At the time, their attention quickly shifted from the state to the federal level," he said.

Perdue said the then-Manchin administration never really embraced the concept of GOHELP.

"It was not the administration's idea," Perdue said, adding, "It was not something the administration was comfortable with."

Perdue said he is encouraged that the Public Works audit recommends merging GOHELP and the Health Care Authority into an office that would perform many of the functions originally envisioned for GOHELP.

"It was our objective to create an oversight commission for the promotion of health care around the state of West Virginia," he said.

Perdue said he supports the overall recommendations of the Public Works, particularly to divide the agency into separate Health and Human Resources divisions.

He said the current arrangement is too unwieldy and forces the DHHR secretary to micromanage daily operations of the 6,000-employee department.

"If I'm working in a factory on an assembly line, and the parts I need aren't coming down the line ... I don't go to the company CEO and ask why I didn't get the parts," he said of the current set-up of DHHR.

Stevens said he's looking forward to September legislative interim meetings, when new DHHR Secretary Karen Bowling is scheduled to tell legislators how her department plans to address and implement the audit's recommendations.

Reach Phil Kabler at philk@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1220.


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