CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- I recently made the decision to elevate the House of Delegates Health Committee to a major committee -- placing its importance equal to the longstanding Finance, Judiciary, Education and Government Organization committees -- because first and foremost I am troubled by the many health challenges West Virginians face and the need for access to affordable, quality health care.
I am particularly concerned about our growing senior population's health-care options.
We have all heard the statistics. West Virginians experience higher rates of chronic diseases -- such as diabetes -- and disabling injuries than people in the rest of the country. We have among the highest rates of smoking and obesity.
There is a great need for preventive care. The many who are ill and reside in rural areas lack access to treatment.
According to the West Virginia Economic Outlook 2013, West Virginia's population is one of the oldest in the country, with 16.2 percent of its people over the age of 65. The Legislature has been working the administration to try to find better options for in-home care for the elderly to get them out of hospitals and nursing homes.
Meanwhile, there are many unanswered questions about the possible expansion of the state's Medicaid insurance program for the poor and disabled and the effect it might have on the state budget. As it is, health-care costs consume more than 22 percent of our state budget.
Yet, in an odd way, West Virginia's extensive health care needs also present job possibilities.