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W.Va. health performance lacking


West Virginia would rank as one of the healthiest states in the country and could save millions a year if it reduced the number of adults without health insurance by about 50 percent.

The state’s huge uninsured population – about 300,000 or so adults – is one of the chief reasons West Virginia fares poorly in a report released June 20 by the New York-based Commonwealth Fund, a private foundation that finances health care research.

The group concludes that based on a number of measures, including the prevalence of obesity to the percentage of adults who have visited a doctor in the past two years, West Virginia ranks 44th overall, just ahead of Kentucky.

The report – the first to rank the states on the performance of health care systems – found huge disparities between care among the top states and those at the bottom.

“The differences we found between the top and bottom states were shocking, often a two- to threefold variation or greater,” said co-author Cathy Schoen in a statement.

Although West Virginia fared better than Kentucky, the Mountain State’s other neighbors did better. Virginia, Maryland and Ohio all ranked in the top 30, and Pennsylvania scored highest at number 15.

The highest-performing states, according to the report, are Hawaii, Iowa, New Hampshire, Vermont and Maine.

The report also detailed how the picture would look if West Virginia were one of the top states in the country. Reaching that goal would mean getting insurance for nearly 148,000 adults and 11,500 children and persuading more than 78,000 adults to receive preventive care like colon cancer screenings and mammograms.

The Commonwealth Fund estimates West Virginia, if it were one of the top performing states, would save more than $65 million annually in reduced hospital admissions alone.

Foremost among the methods for preventing those admissions is improving the state’s overall health. The study notes that West Virginia ranks in the top five for obesity, diabetes and smoking.

Perry Bryant, a member of the Public Employees Insurance Agency’s Finance Board, said those problems are intimately tied to the insurance question.

“One of the reasons we turn out so poorly in those categories is that people lack insurance,” meaning they lack access to regular doctor appointments, he said.

It isn’t all bad news for West Virginia. The report found that the state does a better job of insuring children than most states. About 92 percent of West Virginian children have some form of insurance, putting the state above the national median.

The state has made a concerted effort to insure more children, with the administration of Gov. Joe Manchin announcing last year the extension of the federally funded Children’s Health Insurance Program to cover more minors.

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