Helping Us Need Health Care Less

It appears the announcement last week that The Health Plan and the West Virginia University Health System are forming a partnership is good news for the Wheeling area. If anything, it could mean more local employees added to The Health Plan’s still-new headquarters in our city.

More important is the prospect for all West Virginians. It may be that the benefits for health care are not as important as those for healthy living.

Bringing the two entities together in what they call “a fully integrated healthcare delivery and financing system for the people of West Virginia” makes sense. The WVU Health System provides medical treatment. The Health Plan is a source of health care insurance.

As officials pointed out, studies have indicated such integration can provide better health care quality at lower cost. So clearly, that will be a good thing for Mountain State residents.

But the joint announcement also noted a focus on “population health.” In the long run, that may be the most important contribution the partnership can make.

Collectively, we West Virginians have some of the worst lifestyles in the nation. We don’t eat healthy enough foods. We don’t exercise adequately. We smoke too much. The list goes on and on.

Both WVU and The Health Plan have worked for years to encourage healthier lifestyles among those they serve. Insurance incentives are offered by The Health Plan. WVU Health provides mechanisms to improve health as well as a variety of suggestions on how we can change lifestyles.

Together, as a seamless health care provider and financer, the two entities should be able to do more, and more effectively.

The prospects are truly exciting — and those are two words we do not pair very often. So promising is the potential that it could serve as a template for other entities in the health care system, including the West Virginia Public Employees Insurance Agency.

WVU Health is pioneering new approaches to both high-tech health care and how it is provided to people in mostly rural or suburban areas such as our state. The Health Plan was among early, leading health maintenance organizations.

Together, they may be able to do great things for West Virginians and, perhaps, many people in adjoining states.

Officials of both entities are well aware of the potential, not just for better, more affordable health care but also for helping Mountain State residents to need less of it. We look forward to the partnership’s plans for just such an initiative.

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