State to pay price for bad health

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.

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. As explained in the editorial to the left, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin has 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.

Before reviewing MHC, let’s look back at how West Virginians abuse our bodies:

Nearly 29 percent of Mountain State adults smoke. Too many of our children are taking up the habit. About 19 percent in grades nine to 12 smoke.

We have the third-highest rate of obesity in the nation, at 31.1 percent for adults.

We also have one of the highest rates of preventable accidents in the nation.

So what do these and other examples of personal irresponsibility mean?

Only eight states have lower life expectancies than ours. We have the second highest mortality rate in the nation.

We die of heart attacks at a rate greater than in 44 other states.

Partly as a result of our eating habits, we have the highest rate of adult diabetes in the nation, at 11.6 percent.

Our wallets suffer, too: According to a recent study, West Virginia has the fourth highest rate of spending on government health care programs in the country.

Health care is the single largest chunk of the state budget. The Bureau for Medical Services will spend more than $3 billion next year.

Now, back to Mountain Health Choices. The program was an attempt by the Manchin administration to control Medicaid costs, while encouraging West Virginians to take better care of ourselves. 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 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?