Kenneth Thorpe has a tough challenge ahead: Oversee the design of a more efficient, less expensive health-care system for West Virginia.
On Monday, legislative leaders introduced Thorpe, a professor of health policy at Emory University and the architect of a similar program in Vermont.
"[West Virginia has] a high-cost, fragmented health-care system," said Thorpe, who was a health-care adviser under the Clinton administration. "Its costs are driven by people with multiple chronic health-care problems."
Thorpe said his goal is to devise a master plan for delivering health-care statewide.
"It's like building interstates," he said. "You either have a shared master plan, or you have 50 different groups building interstates, and hope they all connect eventually."
Thorpe will oversee four working groups, made up of health- care providers, consumers, business and labor groups. Those groups will have missions to:
• Redesign methods of health- care delivery. A key issue will be how to better help people with chronic illnesses, including heart disease and diabetes. Thorpe said those people account for 80 percent of all health care costs.
One goal will be to better link physicians with nurses and nurse practitioners providing in-home care.
• Wellness and prevention. Thorpe said the state needs to better promote fitness and wellness programs in schools, communities and the workplace to reduce the costs of treating diseases related to obesity and tobacco use.
• Administrative simplification. "We want to make health care less complicated and more administratively streamlined," he said.
• Technology. Thorpe said advances such as universal electronic health records could both cut costs and improve health care delivery.
Thorpe was retained by the Legislative Oversight Commission on Health and Human Resources Accountability under a $100,000 contract through June 30, 2009.
Both of the committee's chairmen said Monday they consider that a good investment.
"We're finally at a juncture where we realize we can't move forward unless we all work together," Sen. Roman Prezioso, D-Marion, said of the work groups Thorpe will oversee.
"In the U.S. and West Virginia, the health-care system has gotten out of hand but not yet out of reach," said Delegate Don Perdue, D-Wayne."