Report: W.Va. lagging on care for poor
West Virginia isn't doing a good job of delivering health care services for low-income residents, according to a private foundation's report released Wednesday. The Commonwealth Fund report ranked West Virginia tied with Nevada for 41st among the states and the District of Columbia.
While West Virginia ranked 20th in providing appropriate preventive care screenings and treatment for low-income residents, it ranked 28th in health-care access and affordability, 46th in potentially avoidable hospital use and 50th in healthy lifestyles.
While state numbers look dismal, county health rankings released annually by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation show Cabell County is ahead of the curve, according to Dr. Harry Tweel, executive director of the Cabell-Huntington Health Department.
"Last year, Cabell County was ranked first in accessibility. This year, it's fourth or fifth," Tweel said. "And, although this survey had West Virginia ranked at 41st, that's an improvement over our frequent 49th and 50th rankings.
"No, we should not be satisfied with that, but it clearly does show some improvement."
Tweel referenced the worst ranking the state received in the Commonwealth Fund report -- 50th in healthy lifestyles. He said a statewide initiative called "Change the Future WV," a direct product of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, aims to change that.
"We are two years into a statewide change with this initiative, using vetted activities and plans to reach many of our adults to encourage a healthy lifestyle. We've been very pleased with the communities in our nine-county region who have embraced these efforts," Tweel said. "Although it will take several years for this program to show effective change, it is an excellent first step."
The question of improvement, he said, largely depends on whether people continue to embrace statewide health initiatives and actively participate either by seeking insurance if they do not already have it or by taking part in community efforts available to them. To that end, the health department is hosting a training session on Friday, Sept. 20, to help residents better understand their health insurance options under the federal health care overhaul and how to get enrolled. Training will be conducted by West Virginians for Affordable Health Care. To register, call 304-523-6483.
Wednesday's report, titled "Health Care in the Two Americas," found big gaps between the lowest- and highest-performing states. For instance, low-income adults in West Virginia are far more likely to lose six or more teeth to decay or disease compared to Connecticut, Hawaii and Utah.
The report also ranked West Virginia at the bottom for the number of hospital admissions and return trips and potentially avoidable emergency room visits among Medicare patients.
"We found repeated evidence that we are often two Americas, divided by income and geography when it comes to opportunities to lead long and healthy lives," said Cathy Schoen, a Commonwealth Fund senior vice president and the report's lead author. "These are more than numbers. We are talking about people's lives, health and well-being."
Nine of the bottom 10 states were in the South.
The report used the most current data available, generally from 2010-2011. The goal is to prompt state policymakers and health care leaders to use the data to target resources for improvements for low-income residents.
While the report noted one-third of West Virginia's low-income population was uninsured, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin announced in May the state would extend Medicaid coverage to an estimated 91,500 uninsured low-income residents under the federal health care overhaul starting in January.
The report placed West Virginia among the top five states for having lower rates of uninsured children and those without a personal doctor or nurse.
The report noted poor marks for the state in adult obesity, smoking, lack of exercise, and those reporting poor to fair health or mental health issues. About 32 percent of West Virginia adults, one-fourth of state second graders and about 28 percent of fifth graders are obese.
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