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Closing an “Unhealthy” Gap in West Virginia

November 1, 2007

Charleston, WV – One in three West Virginians has gone without health coverage at some point in the past two years, and closing that gap is the goal of a forum this evening at the University of Charleston.

Kathleen Stoll of the healthcare advocacy group Families USA will speak at the event. She says West Virginia has some of the nation's toughest eligibility standards for public health coverage for parents and other adults, so only extremely low-income resident are able to get public healthcare, while many are stuck without affordable options.

"That means working West Virginians who are uninsured don't have a safety net, yet they may not have an offer of coverage through their job, so it leaves them in this gap."

Opponents of expanding public health insurance coverage say it will cost too much and lead to higher taxes. Stoll argues citizens are already paying those costs, in what she calls the "hidden tax" of higher health costs.

"The uninsured sacrifice to pay as much as they can themselves when they do get care, and what they can't pay themselves is passed on through higher charges by hospitals and doctors to insurers; and insurers pass that on as higher premiums."

Stoll estimates these hidden costs amount to $1800 a year in additional health insurance premiums for a typical West Virginia family. She adds people without coverage often avoid or delay treatment, leading to major illnesses and higher costs because they seek emergency care. Families USA advocates for expansion of the state's public health coverage to include more working families, as well as federal expansion of the Children's Health Insurance Program.

Thursday's forum, "Healthcare For All: A Vision for West Virginia," begins at 7:00 PM in the ballroom of the Geary Student Union building on the UC campus.

Rob Ferrett/John Robinson, Public News Service - WV