AP/Charleston Daily Mail Examines Health Reform Efforts in West Virginia
Efforts to make 2009 the "year of health care" in West Virginia are faltering as key measures have been rejected or significantly modified by lawmakers, and other measures "face uncertain fates" in committees, the AP/Charleston Daily Mail reports. Earlier this session, lawmakers defeated a bill that would have increased the state cigarette tax from 55 cents to $1.20 per pack, which supporters said would raise between $90 million and $110 million annually for health and other programs. Gov. Joe Manchin (D) at the beginning of the year said he would not consider any general revenue taxes, and the chairs of the state House and Senate finance committees showed little interest in moving the bill.
A separate proposal that would require restaurants with 15 or more national locations to post calorie information on their menus has "traced an unpredictable course from defeat to victory in the Senate," and is now before the state House Government Organization Committee, which could choose to review it this week. The state has the second-highest rates of smoking and obesity in the U.S., and both are linked to myriad health conditions that require costly treatment, including high blood pressure and heart disease. Emory University health expert Ken Thorpe, who was contracted by the state last year to make recommendations on health reform in the state, estimated that about 75% of all health-related spending in the state is linked to such chronic conditions. Perry Bryant, executive director of West Virginians for Affordable Health Care, said, "This year certainly has the potential to be a lost opportunity," adding that if both the smoking and calorie count bills fail, "it will be as if the Legislature is saying this poor health status in West Virginia is OK."
However, not every health care measure before the Legislature this year "has such a grim outlook," according to the AP/Daily Mail. A bill establishing the Governor's Office of Health Enhancement and Lifestyle Planning, known as "Go Help" -- which supporters say would help coordinate health-related programs in the state -- is now before the House. State House Health and Human Resources Committee Chair Don Perdue (D) said, "This has been the linchpin from the beginning. If it passes, this session will be largely successful." Two bills suggested by working groups commissioned by Thorpe -- seeking to develop pilot programs for improving access to care and creating a "medical home" health care model -- are still under consideration (Breen, AP/Charleston Daily Mail, 4/4).