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Getting Over Geographic Feuds

It is unlikely the public will ever know all the reasons why a proposed partnership between The Health Plan, of Wheeling, and WVU Medicine has been put on hold — but some may have a strong suspicion about what happened. Whether and in what form the idea might be resurrected is uncertain.

What we know is that WVU Medicine and Health Plan officials seemed dedicated to the plan for months. Then, geo-politics reared its ugly head.

In September, officials at Charleston Area Medical Center revealed they would be terminating a contract with The Health Plan at year’s end. At the time, Health Plan President Jim Pennington, who plans to leave that post at the end of the year, said CAMC’s reasoning was clear.

CAMC officials were upset about plans for the WVU Medicine-Health Plan partnership, Pennington said. They view WVU Medicine as a competitor, he explained. “In our meeting, (CAMC officials) called them ‘the northern aggressor several times,” Pennington added.

Just hours after news that the WVU partnership had been scrapped, The Health Plan released a statement that its relationship with CAMC has been restored.

What a coincidence …

We in Wheeling are all-too-familiar with feuds between health care organizations. Wheeling Hospital and Ohio Valley Medical Center engaged in a bitter one for years, before the latter, along with East Ohio Regional Hospital, closed.

And throughout the state, West Virginians remember the battles between politicians from northern and southern counties over control of state government.

Tolerance for such battles has limits, especially when health care is at stake. Access to, quality of and, most notably, the cost for health care are hot-button issues.

Look at what health care costs us. According to the respected Kaiser Family Foundation, West Virginians spent nearly $17.5 billion on health care in 2014, the most recent year studied. That works out to $9,462 per capita, the 11th highest in the country.

Most of us get our health insurance from Washington. One-fourth of West Virginians are enrolled in Medicare. No state has a higher percentage. Another 29% are covered by Medicaid or the CHIP program for children in low-income families. Still, limits on coverage and, in the case of Medicare, the cost of supplemental insurance make health care costs a concern even for those on government programs.

It is no secret that WVU Medicine is working toward a more integrated system of health care in West Virginia. Plans for the partnership with The Health Plan were part of that strategy.

WVU Medicine and The Health Plan used similar language in announcing their partnership has hit a snag. WVU Medicine officials stated that “coming together is crucial.” The Health Plan stated it is “committed to building a statewide integrated healthcare finance and delivery network…”

Good. That may be the best way to serve Mountain State residents’ health care needs. Those who argue against such integration may want to consider that if it does not occur under the leadership of West Virginia institutions, it almost certainly will happen under the control of an out-of-state entity.

Myer can be reached at: mmyer@theintelligencer.net.

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