Taking better care of ourselves

We West Virginians are among the most irresponsible in the nation when it comes to taking care of ourselves. We eat too much. We smoke too much. We take too many stupid chances with our safety.

And, aside from the fact that means we die earlier than need be and don’t enjoy the same quality of life more thoughtful people do, there’s a price to be paid for that irresponsibility. It’s in the cost of health care treatment – and, because so many Mountain State residents are enrolled in the state-federal Medicaid program, everyone has to pay the tab.

The tab is about to become much larger. Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin has recently decided the state should bow to federal demands that we expand our Medicaid program. It is meant to help low-income and disabled people with health care costs.

About 20 percent of state residents – 350,000 or so people – already get Medicaid benefits. Expansion will add an estimated 91,500 more.

We already had 350,000 reasons to get Medicaid spending under control.

By this time next year, we’ll have 91,500 more.

It isn’t that some West Virginians haven’t tried to do that. While U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., was governor, his administration attempted to implement a program called Mountain Health Choices. Proponents were slapped down quickly by folks who claimed MHC was unfair to low-income people, especially children.

The program was an attempt by the Manchin administration to control Medicaid costs – while encouraging West Virginians to take better care of ourselves.

In exchange for agreement to follow a few very simple rules (keep doctors’ appointments and follow physicians’ orders, in essence), participating Medicaid clients received “enhanced” benefits. One, as an example, was smoking cessation treatment.

But MHC went down the tubes because of lack of participation and opposition from “advocacy” groups and the feds.

Partly as a result, the cost of Medicaid continues to skyrocket. State government has had to cut other services to pay the higher bill. And we’re about to increase the number of people on the Medicaid program.

Might it be time to take another look at MHC – and other programs to improve West Virginians’ health while curbing the cost of treating our illnesses and injuries?

Just as an example, why not require Medicaid clients who smoke to cover a higher co-pay for visits to the doctor, similar to what private insurance companies do when they set higher premiums for smokers? Hey, if you can afford $5 a pack or so for cigarettes …

Maybe it’s time for taxpayers to find an “advocacy” group.

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EDITOR’S NOTE: Mike Myer is executive editor of The Intelligencer and the Wheeling News-Register. He can be reached via e-mail at myer@theintelligencer.net