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‘Public Option’ Could Make Health Care Woes Worse

Health care access and affordability are already major concerns for West Virginians. I have come to understand this as a physical therapist, a small-business owner, and a former member of the West Virginia Senate. I agree that more should be done to lower costs and expand access to care.

However, government-controlled health care won’t solve anything — and in fact, it may just intensify the problems we are already seeing today.

For West Virginians, hospital closures are already a threat to health care access, particularly in rural areas where options are few and far between. Closure announcements at the Ohio Valley Medical Center in Wheeling and East Ohio Regional in Martins Ferry, Ohio rattled local communities and economies alike. The more recent closure and subsequent takeover of Fairmont Regional Hospital by another health care system has reduced access to vital services.

The point is, rural hospitals in West Virginia are already facing tough times — that was true before the pandemic but is even truer today. A public option could make things worse by piling new financial burdens on our rural hospitals and health care providers.

A study released this summer found that, in our current health care and economic environment, a one-size-fits-all approach to health care like the public option could increase financial losses for rural hospitals and providers by 40%.

These losses could push more than half of our nation’s hospitals into the red, potentially threatening access to care for tens of millions Americans. If a public option accelerates the rate of hospital closures, not only would it undermine access to quality care, but it would hurt local economies, especially in our rural small towns where these facilities are often the largest source of jobs and economic activity.

Rather than pushing misguided proposals like the public option, lawmakers should be passing practical policy solutions that will strengthen health care delivery, access, and affordability. They should do that by continuing to build upon successful programs and bring reform to ones that aren’t working as well — not handing the reins over to the federal government.

Ryan J. Ferns, PT, DPT, is chief executive officer of Functional Medicine and operates the Ryan Ferns Healthplex Inc. in Benwood. He has served our area in both the West Virginia State Senate and the House of Delegates.

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