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Study Finds W.Va.’s Poor Health Costly

October 13, 2007
By Wayne Sheets, Contributing Business Writer
    The findings of a new report released on Oct. 2, by the Milken Institute indicate that West Virginia has the highest percentage of citizens with chronic diseases than any other state in the country.  (We always seem to be No. 1 in all the wrong categories!) 

    The study, “An Unhealthy America: The Economic Impact of Chronic Diseases,” details the enormous financial impact of chronic disease on the U. S. economy — not only in treatment costs, but lost worker productivity — today and in the decades ahead.  It also describes “the huge savings if a serious effort were made to improve American’s health.”

    According to the study’s findings, the cost of treatment for chronic illnesses in the Mountain State was $2.3 billion in 2003, and lost productivity cost West Virginia $8.1 billion.  Moreover, lost productivity accounted for more than 3.5 times the cost of treating seven chronic illnesses: mental disorders, strokes, heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, pulmonary condition and cancer.

    The report also presents a frightening and expensive outlook for West Virginia’s future. The total cost of these seven chronic illnesses ($10.5 billion in 2003) grows to $28.3 billion in 2023 under existing conditions, the report said. However, with modest changes in behavior (reducing obesity to 19 percent and overweight to 32 percent, continue the decline of smoking rates to 15 percent by 2023, etc.), West Virginia could reduce this cost by $7.7 billion in 2023, the report said.

    West Virginia Chamber of Commerce President Steve Roberts said, “We must develop and put into practice more programs focused on prevention and treatment of chronic conditions.  Roberts said that for the past year the chamber has been participating in a multi-stakeholder working group that is examining possible health care reforms and new programs in West Virginia, and expects this group to start developing recommendations soon.

    While we are on the subject of health costs, let me pass along some information regarding a new smokeless tobacco that is being imported from Sweden.  The product, snus (pronunciation rhymes with “noose’), is a moist, ground tobacco for oral use and most closely resembles chew/spit tobacco. It generally comes in a pouch that’s placed between the lip and gum.

    The product differs from other chew/spit tobaccos in that it is kept cold prior to sale and sold from small, refrigerated display cases.  Research shows that refrigeration may help lessen levels of cancer-causing agents already known to be in all snus produces. However, once the product becomes unrefrigerated, nitrosamines and other carcinogens do form, increasing the risk of developing mouth, pancreatic and other gastrointestinal cancers.  Other effects of oral tobacco use include leukoplakia (white mouth lesions that can become cancerous), gum recession and tooth decay.

    Many countries including Hong Kong, Ireland, Israel, Japan, Saudi Arabia, Taiwan, Singapore and Australia, as well as those in the European Union, have banned oral, smokeless tobacco, but many others, including the U.S. permit its sale and use.

    Tobacco users, of course, don’t want to hear it, but the best advice for this, and all other tobacco products, is to stay away from it.  According to the second addition of “The Tobacco Atlas,” released by the American Cancer Society in 2006, an estimated 25 percent of all deaths in the United States are attributed to tobacco usage.  Smoking kills half of all lifetime users and half of those deaths occur between the age of 30 and 69.  Smokers killed in their prime years lose more than 20 years of life expectancy.  We’ve all heard tobacco users say, “Oh, well, I’ve got to die from something.”  One can’t help but wonder what that person’s perspective will be when he or she is told that life is about to end because of the use of smokeless tobacco or smoking.

    — Here’s a reminder to everyone regarding the fall forest fire season that runs from Oct. 1 through Dec. 31.  Outdoor burning is restricted to the hours of 4 p.m. to 7 a.m.  Burning at any other time could result in heavy fines, or worse yet, cause a major forest fire.  During the spring 2007 forest fire season, 498 fires burned over 3,817 acres of precious land.

    — The 2007 Human Resources Summit and Governor’s Workforce Safety Conference will be held at the Charleston Town Center Marriott on Nov. 13-14.  Presentations on key human resources, employment law and safety matters will be provided by leading experts.  The conference is being organized by the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce, West Virginia Chapter of the Society for Human Resource Management and West Virginia Workforce Development.  This year’s premier host is BrickStreet Mutual Insurance Co.

    The conference will provide large and small employers, manager, lawyers, and/or those responsible for human resources in their organization, with a concise look at many employee and job-related issues facing today’s work place.

    For more information, contact the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce at

    — Contestants have until the last day of this month to enter the West Virginia “Answer the Call” vacation video contest.  The grand prize is a 2008 Toyota Camry Hybrid.  “We’re excited to showcase West Virginia as a premier tourist destination, and proud to have Toyota as a business partner and a sponsor of this contest,” Gov. Joe Manchin said.  “This is a great example of the strong business relationships we have fostered in West Virginia.”

    Footage of past or present visits to the Mountain State is eligible.  Qualified entries will be viewed by the state Division of Tourism and posted to the video gallery.  To find out more information about the contest, call Jane Bostic at 558-2200 ext 346, or e-mail />

    — This past week I had the pleasure of talking to some folks that are seeing the efforts of our Legislature and governor at work making our state a better place to live and work — specifically, the malpractice legislation in the health care industry.  It is always meaningful to read where someone has reported this kind of progress, but it is another thing to experience it “up close and personal.”

    Earlier this year this group of folks met with some insurance executives in New York City and were more or less cast aside reflecting the attitude that “West Virginia is a Tort ‘hell-hole’ for doing business with this segment of the state’s business world.”  This same group of folks was in a meeting in Chicago this past week and was treated with much greater respect and with an enthusiasm for doing business that as they said, “is much improved over the past six or eight months.”  They attributed the change in attitude to the health care malpractice reform that resulted in the last session of the Legislature.



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