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Health committee change adds focus

Dec. 25, 2012 @ 12:00 AM

I recently made the decision to elevate the House of Delegates Health Committee to a major committee because 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 heard the statistics. West Virginians experience higher rates of chronic diseases and disabling injuries than the rest of the country. We have one of the highest rates of smoking and obesity.

There is a great need for preventative 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 with 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, West Virginia's extensive health care needs also present job possibilities.

The Outlook reports that our state's healthcare sector gained 2,000 jobs from 2010 to 2011, and employment in healthcare and social services accounted for about 15 percent of total employment in 2011, about 111,800 jobs.

As we figure out how to better provide affordable, accessible health care for West Virginians, we may also create more good-paying jobs.

I am proud of the House Health Committee's work to address our state's health care needs. Led ably by House Health Chairman Don Perdue, the committee has spent many hours wading through complex issues within the state's health care system. The committee's ability to meet during the legislative session has been limited by its status as a minor committee.

That is why I intend to make the House of Delegates Health Committee a major standing committee, giving it the workload and status equal to the Finance, Judiciary, Education and Government Organization committees.

This will allow the House Health Committee much more time and energy to dedicate to health-related legislation.

Many members of the House of Delegates have told me they would like our Health Committee to be able to spend more time examining health care matters. I believe this change is a very positive step in helping House of Delegates members better meet the needs of their constituents and to serve the state as a whole.

Rick Thompson, a Democrat from Wayne County, is speaker of the West Virginia House of Delegates.

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