CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- West Virginia is taking strong steps to get ready for the new federal health-care reform law, Kathleen Stoll, deputy director of the non-profit Families USA, told a conference of West Virginia health-care workers, policy-makers and advocates Monday.
"I go all over the country, and I would rank West Virginia in the top 10 states in terms of thinking ahead and doing the things that need to be done," she said, speaking at the "Growing Healthy Children" conference in Charleston.
"West Virginia has a real head start on many states," Mark Blum, director of America's Agenda: Health Care for All, agreed.
Conference attendees provided examples:
| All West Virginia community health centers have applied for and received federal stimulus grants to expand and improve their physical facilities. Most are adding staff with health-reform dollars. "We're getting ready for many thousands more patients," state Primary Care Association director Louise Reese said.
| In 2009, West Virginia applied for and got a $36 million federal grant to help design an online insurance marketplace and expand the state's use of electronic technology to make care less costly and more efficient. "That grant puts us far ahead of the curve," Perry Bryant, director of West Virginians for Affordable Healthcare, said.
| The state Bureau for Public Health secured funding to work with local health departments to upgrade their operation and get ready for the new system. "The landscape is shifting, and community health centers, health departments, hospitals, are all finding their best roles," said Joe Barker, who directs the Office of Community Health Systems.
"West Virginia also faces unusual challenges," Blum said. Health care costs 13 percent more in West Virginia than the national average, he noted, and 80 percent of the state's health-care costs are associated with chronic disease, "alarming rates of juvenile diabetes, stroke, heart disease, and hypertension."
Health-care premiums rose four times faster than wages in West Virginia since 2000, Stoll said.
"We have been touted as the most unhealthy state in so many categories, and we know we can do so much better than that," Gov. Joe Manchin told the conference earlier in the day. "The jury is still out on what the final result will be, but we can't stay where we have been and get results."
The new law will primarily benefit working people, Manchin said. "Working people are the main vulnerable group we have out there," he said.