West Virginia does not have many extra dollars for Medicaid expansion and other options. To come up with last year's match from the federal government, legislators raised the tobacco tax to help fill a $240 million gap in the state budget.
"The biggest challenges clearly are ahead of us," said Perry Bryant, a government relations specialist with the West Virginia Education Association. "It's a daunting task, particularly in light of the state's financial situation."
Richardson said she hopes the town meetings will drum up public support.
"Until people feel that strongly about it, you're not going to get sources of revenue easily, because, for all of this, nobody wants to raise taxes," Richardson said. "You have to be more inventive about how you find those sources of revenue."
Legislators will face other obstacles if they take up the challenge:
"At some point, somebody has to take a hold of the rising costs of health care," Richardson said. "We can't do everything with this grant, but at some point that will have to be looked at."
Public must voice concern
The public has to let the Legislature know they're concerned, Richardson said. "I can remember when people got out of this state and marched on Washington," said Richardson. "They did it for the Million Man March, they did it for AIDS, they did it for women's rights, they did for abortion rights, and they did it against abortion rights.
"But nobody has ever said that this is an important enough subject that our state capitals and our federal capital understand the size of this problem."
Health Advisory Council member Foley said she would march. She sells herbs and potpourri from her home. Her husband, Richard, installs drywall and works other construction jobs.
They can't afford health insurance for themselves, and two of their children are covered by the Children's Health Insurance Program. She had questions for the federal government, which is paying for the state's planning effort.
"Are we just churning our fields here or what?" she asked. "Are we all wasting our time, or are they actually going to use some of this planning? Otherwise, they could have taken that million dollars, and we could have given it to people to pay for their health care."
Staff writer Kate Long contributed to this story.
To contact staff writer John Heys, use e-mail or call 348-1254.
Plans on the table
The Health Advisory Council, a group of state officials, community leaders, insurance company executives, politicians and health-care providers, is looking at different ways to reduce the number of uninsured people in West Virginia.
Here are some options they're considering and the estimated costs for the state:
Source: Lewin Group