Program’s Critics Proven Wrong

Critics of West Virginia’s Mountain Health Choices program have condemned it since even before it was implemented about two years ago. Since then they have kept up a steady, harsh drumbeat of warnings that the program is bad for the low-income families who need health care help the most.

It turns out that on at least one important criticism, the naysayers were wrong.

Mountain Health Choices is part of the state-federal Medicaid program, which is intended to help low-income people with health care expenses. MHC has a simple concept: Medicaid clients who agree to sign personal responsibility commitments receive enhanced benefits. They agree to use a medical care “home,” such as a family doctor, and to keep health care appointments they make. They also agree to use emergency rooms only for true emergencies.

Medicaid clients who do not agree to the stipulations are limited to basic assistance.

One claim made by critics has been that the state somehow is using MHC to limit Medicaid benefits for poor West Virginians with serious health concerns.

That is not true, West Virginia University researchers have found. Their findings were reported last week at a West Virginia Health Institute meeting.

The researchers learned that most adults in the MHC enhanced plan seem to be in poorer health than those in the basic program. They visit doctors more often and make use of the improved prescription drug benefits in the enhanced plan.

In other words, MHC is providing more help to those who need it – not less.

MHC still is in its infancy, with much to learn about whether it will improve the health of low-income West Virginians, in general. But it certainly appears to be doing some good, providing the critics wrong on one primary criticism. Clearly, state officials should expand the program – not rescind it.