National Expert to Lead WV Health Care Reform

May 20, 2008 - West Virginia Public Radio
By America's Agenda

For years now, West Virginia lawmakers have been tossing around different initiatives and policy adjustments to lower the cost of health care. They’ve included a council on prescription drug prices, a redesign of Medicaid, and a variety of different state-organized health insurance plans.
 
But the chairmen of the Senate and House Health Committee haven’t been happy with their progress, and they’re bringing in a national expert to referee major reforms. Anna Sale reports.
 
Sale: Senate Health and Human Resources Committee Chairman Roman Prezioso says a new approach to health care reform has been a long time coming at the state capitol.
 
Prezioso: We’ve worked hours upon hours trying to formulate initiatives in health care that we thought had some merit. First of all, we had a problem with some of our legislators. They were off on other tangents thinking that their idea was better. We could never get our own groups together. And then we could never get the provider communities and business and labor together. So we thought at this time, look, nobody’s going to listen to us. We need somebody from the outside to come in, and formulate a plan, articulate that plan and then move forward.
 
Sale: That outsider is Kenneth Thorpe, the chairman of the health policy management program at Emory University in Atlanta. The legislature has hired him as a consultant for $100,000. The House and Senate Health committee chairmen introduced him at a press conference on Monday.
 
Thorpe will oversee four working groups that will look at health care delivery, its accompanying administration and paperwork, technology and electronic medical records, and obesity prevention. The end product, Thorpe says, will be a new model for delivering better, less expensive health care in WV.
 
Thorpe: The system right now is very reactive. We wait for patients to show up in the emergency rooms, or the clinics or the hospitals to get treated because we’re not managing them on the front end, and we don’t do that because we don’t have the right delivery system and we don’t have the right payment signals that allows that to develop. So that’s our goal.
 
Sale: It’s ambitious. But this isn’t the first time Thorpe has tried to tackle a whole state’s health care system. He was also a consultant in Vermont, which passed major health care reforms in 2006 and 2007. House Health and Human Resources Committee Chairman Don Perdue says the ultimate goal of all this is lowering costs so that everyone has health care coverage.
 
Perdue: But we’ve kind of been looking at that all the time and not paying attention to the fact that the substructure that supports that is seriously flawed. So we believe if we start from the foundation to come forward, then we have an opportunity to do something that hasn’t been done yet.
 
Sale: Getting to that point, of course, will take a lot of work during the groups’ monthly meetings. But Perdue and Prezioso are hopeful that this time, all of the interest groups are on board, which will keep the political fights at bay. That’s the case for now. At Monday’s press conference, both the AFL-CIO and the pharmaceutical lobbying group PhRMA endorsed this process.
 
For WV Public Broadcasting, I’m Anna Sale in Charleston.

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