Keep Tax Dollars in W.Va.

Health care and the health of West Virginians has an integral role in the economic comeback of our state that’s happening right now. Under the superior leadership of Governor Jim Justice, the state has already made financial history, including:

n The largest first-quarter tax revenue collection in state history — ever.

Specifically, the state brought in $119.9 million in tax collections in the first quarter of the state’s fiscal year (July-Sept. 2018) — an 18 percent growth rate. As Governor Justice put it, this level of growth is “frankly unheard of.” He’s right. The Administration made plans, made promises and — the numbers prove — they have absolutely delivered. West Virginia’s economy isn’t just moving ahead, it’s marching forward.

West Virginia is experiencing an economic turn-around. Finally, funds are “Coming Home,” and the momentum continues. Regardless of personal politics, Gov. Justice and the Legislature must be congratulated on all they’ve done to create and integrate the positive, growing economic environment we’re now experiencing. Finally, someone in leadership was able to light this fuse.

This situation didn’t “just happen.” It occurred as a result of foresight, insight, smart planning, solid policies and the tenacity and resolve to continue the precise and intelligent decision-making it takes to find and harness potential financial benefits across many disciplines. Again, bringing it home to West Virginia.

So, how can we keep this momentum going — and how can health care have a role in the state’s continued success? Health care is always a hot-button issue because it’s important to every West Virginian. And, it’s a huge challenge. The rising cost of health care makes national news constantly. It’s top-of-mind for our state’s leaders, lawmakers, public servants and everyday citizens.

Fortunately, with challenge usually comes opportunity. Even great opportunity — for those who can recognize exactly where the advantages are and how to capitalize on them. It requires just the type of leadership the governor and his administration have displayed.

The current situation with the Public Employees Insurance Agency makes an excellent health care-specific example. As task forces work diligently to recommend fixes for PEIA overall, an opportunity exists right now for funding to “Come Home” and ensure that state funds stay in West Virginia.

While it seems like a no-brainer, the path to making this happen isn’t always easy. However, when state funds indeed stay in-state, there’s often a multiplier effect — one that can help keep the West Virginia economy on its upward trajectory. So, it demands careful consideration.

Specifically, the PEIA contract to select its third-party health care insurance provider of record is currently up for bid. A process which is administered by PEIA’s internal purchasing division.

Four providers have submitted bids — three out-of-state companies (UnitedHealthcare, Healthscope and HealthSmart) and one West Virginia company (The Health Plan). In these situations — especially with the ever-evolving budget challenges faced by PEIA now and in the coming months — it is vitally important to critically examine every aspect of these competitors.

Who offers us the BEST service at the lowest cost? That’s obviously an important question, and there’s a lot to consider: the cost of in-state care, border-state care and out-of-network specialty care, such as the Mayo Clinic. As PEIA is examining the bids, assessing all these parameters and determining what is truly best for the majority of West Virginians is paramount.

While we don’t yet know those answers, we do know a few things for sure.

With an in-state provider such as The Health Plan, there are clear benefits. Simply put, it’s the only option in which your state tax dollars directed toward PEIA will stay with an in-state, not-for-profit company. In fact, The Health Plan is West Virginia’s only non-profit insurance provider that’s not beholden to shareholders or investors.

And from my assessment, The Health Plan is more than just an in-state company. Much more. The Health Plan is the only competitor with:

n A very significant economic impact right here in the Mountain State;

n Its corporate headquarters in West Virginia — Wheeling, WV to be exact;

n A statewide presence with offices in Wheeling, Morgantown and Charleston;

n 530 local employees throughout West Virginia;

n 38 years of experience managing PEIA on an insured basis;

n Experience administering Medicare and Medicaid in West Virginia;

n A strong track record of investing and reinvesting in the state with additional job creation, business expansion, etc.; and

n A proven dedication to supporting education — through scholarships for medical and nursing students (who want to stay in the state long-term) at both West Virginia University and Marshall University — to help keep the best and brightest here in-state long-term.

These are facts about The Health Plan. A West Virginia company pursuing a contract to provide coverage for thousand of state employees. A company that’s been in West Virginia since its inception in 1979. A company who undoubtedly knows, understands and loves this state. A company dedicated to making any funds it would receive as PEIA’s chosen provider work within West Virginia.

As the review committee within PEIA’s internal purchasing division examines all the potential companies who’ve submitted a proposal, we can only have faith that they will apply the same critical thinking and sound decision-making as demonstrated by Gov. Justice and his administration to move our state economy forward.

Isn’t it time we take advantage of opportunities for West Virginia tax dollars to “Come Home”?

McKenzie is a former state senator and former mayor of Wheeling. A resident of the city, he works as a financial adviser.

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