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Foster Groups Alarmed by WV Switch to Private Health Care

The same health insurer that has served West Virginia's Medicaid program since 1996 has also been tapped to cover children in the state's foster-care system. (Adobe Stock)
The same health insurer that has served West Virginia's Medicaid program since 1996 has also been tapped to cover children in the state's foster-care system. (Adobe Stock)
November 15, 2019

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – Foster parents and child-welfare groups are worried about the switch from state-managed health care to private care for children in the state's care.

The West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources announced last week that it has chosen Aetna Better Health as the new managed-care provider for kids in foster and adoptive care. But Marissa Sanders – who is the director of West Virginia Foster, Adoptive and Kinship Parents Network – says the move could make it harder for an already under-served population to receive services.

She says the biggest worry is whether foster families will be able to keep their doctors.

"My son's adopted and I can take him pretty much anywhere in the state and know that his services will be covered,” says Sanders. “There's concern that that may not be the case anymore. There's a lot of concern about what happens if a child has significant, complex needs and a long history with a particular provider, and that provider is not in-network."

The new provider, Aetna Better Health of West Virginia, says it has over 11,000 providers in-network, including more than 1,300 primary care doctors and all rural health clinics in the state. The state said it made the switch to better coordinate the large number of children in its care.

But the idea of spending money on a for-profit business is another concern, when Sanders says that money could be better spent supporting foster kids.

Josh Boynton, with Aetna Better Health, says his company is sensitive to the challenges in West Virginia's overwhelmed foster-care system – and wants to have a collaborative relationship with the foster community.

"We'll partner with families, we'll partner with the state, with providers and advocates and community leaders, to make sure that our approach builds on what West Virginia families should expect and rightly deserve," says Boynton.

A spokesperson for the West Virginia DHHR says the agency is in the process of implementing the new health-care system, and will be phasing it in starting in the first quarter of 2020.

Diane Bernard, Public News Service - WV