- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Recent editorials from West Virginia newspapers:

Feb. 23

The Herald-Dispatch, Huntington, W.Va., on W.Va., Ky. devote extra effort to aid health care enrollment:

The rollout of the Affordable Care Act, the health reform law that’s widely become known as Obamacare, has been beset with glitches and the target of heavy criticism for consequences that were not explained when the law was passed nearly four years ago.

But some aspects of the law’s goal of expanding health insurance coverage to those without it have been more successful. One piece is relaxing the income requirements for eligibility for government-provided Medicaid coverage. Several states have made significant headway in enrolling a large percentage of people who are newly qualified for that health insurance.

Among the states doing “remarkable work” in that regard are West Virginia and Kentucky, according to Ron Pollack, executive director of Families USA, a nonprofit organization that promotes the idea of affordable health care for all Americans.

Both states have been aggressive in reaching out to newly eligible residents, helping them enroll in Medicaid and overcoming some of the problems that still exist in the federal government’s signup processes.

For example, West Virginia used information about recipients in other benefit programs to identify nearly 120,000 Mountain State residents who were potentially eligible and sent them letters urging them to enroll. That in itself resulted in a significant number of enrollees. Follow-up telephone calls by county office workers and other “assisters” yielded the enrollment of 15,000 more.

When technical problems at the federal level made it difficult to gather all the information necessary to enroll people, West Virginia workers used the basic information they had received and followed up with letters to obtain the necessary information.

The end result: West Virginia has enrolled 87,135 people in its Medicaid expansion, according to Jeremiah Samples, assistant secretary of the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Services. That total represents about 70 percent of the estimated eligible people in the state, and is about 25,000 more than expected to sign up for this year, he said.

According to Samples, the boost in Medicaid coverage coupled with new enrollments in private insurance means that the number of uninsured West Virginians has fallen from 13.5 percent to 4.2 percent, a huge improvement.

Kentucky also used several techniques. It employed a large number of “navigators” to help people enroll and it partnered with other organizations to help spread the word about the new available coverage at events throughout the state. Libraries across the state pitched in by hosting an “enrollment day” with experts on hand to help people enroll.

At this point, Kentucky is on a pace to have about 250,000 people enrolled by the end of February out of 640,000 who were uninsured before.

Of course, enrolling people is only one stage of the end goal of making health care accessible to more people. Just how the health care system absorbs all these new consumers has yet to play out and no doubt there will be complications, such as whether care will be easily accessible and the enrollees use it efficiently. That will have to be assessed later.

But at this point, efforts by various West Virginia and Kentucky agencies to help people begin to take advantage of this new health care opportunity have been commendable.




Feb. 24

News and Sentinel, Parkersburg, W.Va., on inmates’ project helps kids in foster care:

Children in West Virginia’s foster care system received an extra measure of support last week from a place one might not expect. Inmates at St. Marys Correctional Center designed and made more than 500 bags in which kids can pack their belongings. Female inmates at Lakin Correctional Center made and donated more than 500 blankets. Nonprofit group Mission West Virginia gratefully accepted the donation from approximately two dozen inmates in St. Marys, who had a very good reason for taking on the project.

“It’s meant a lot to all of us guys, to be able to give back and maybe help a child not end up in a place like this,” said one.

In fact, according to Mission West Virginia Public Relations Director Carrie Dawson, a child who ages out of the foster care system at 18, as opposed to returning to his or her biological family or being adopted, has a much higher likelihood of ending up either homeless or in jail. Foster care is temporary, as Dawson explained. The plan is for kids to return to their homes. But of the 4,000 children in the system now, 1,000 have seen their parents lose their rights, and are therefore eligible for adoption.

Those kids - of all ages - are at tremendous risk, through no fault of their own, and deserve as much support as we are able to give. While the call to adopt may not be one most of us are willing or able to answer, smaller gestures can still make a big difference. Mission West Virginia accepts donations of new or gently used luggage or duffel bags - if possible, filled with items such as toothbrushes and toothpaste, hair brushes and combs, books, crayons, coloring books, flashlights, other toiletries, non-perishable snacks and even disposable cameras with small photo albums.

“A lot of these kids don’t have pictures from their own childhoods,” Dawson said.

The cameras might give them a chance to have fun taking pictures with friends or their foster families, documenting new experiences and creating memories.

Mission West Virginia can provide more information about the needs of these kids, and drop-off locations for donations, at (866) CALL-MWV (866-225-5698).

Let us make sure these children know they have an entire state full of people to count on, and that they are not forgotten.




Feb. 19

Charleston (W.Va.) Gazette on saving day care:

In today’s economy, when both parents work, good day care is essential to keep families and society functioning. So the impending closure of three tot-tending centers is a jolt to the mid-Kanawha Valley. This sad loss should be averted, if possible.

Parents were surprised this week by letters saying the three facilities - Public Employees Day Care near the Capitol, plus Elk Center Day Care and Shawnee Community Day Care - are to cease operation in about a month because of a $65,000 budget shortfall. The shutdown will wipe out 40 jobs and leave 120 preschool children in limbo.

Strangely, the letters put part of the blame on the new U.S. Affordable Care Act, saying the ACA will force the centers to provide health coverage to staff members. “We would have to start offering insurance to employees,” management claimed.

However, this may be mistaken. Analyst Brandon Merritt of the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy told reporter Mackenzie Mays that the ACA doesn’t apply to small employers with fewer than 50 workers. “I can state emphatically that they are not impacted by the Affordable Care Act,” he said.

What’s going on? Were operators of the three centers misinformed about federal law changes? If so, maybe they can reconsider their closure decision.

The centers are operated by an independent agency, the Kanawha County Schools Community Education Program, which gets no tax money. It must survive solely on payments from parents.

It will be a shame if 40 jobs are lost and a multitude of parents must scramble to find other facilities to tend their little ones. Somehow, we hope the shutdown can be prevented.

The Legislature’s Web designer, John Tice, wants the state Department of Health and Human Services - which sets rules for day care programs - to rescue the centers. “I can’t imagine there’s nothing the DHHR can do to stop them from straight-up closing the doors,” he said.

Local leaders, and perhaps legislators, should examine this quandary and try to save the day care centers.



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