Proposed Legislation Could Generate $7.7 Million and Modernize State's Public Health System
The West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources, Bureau for Public Health (BPH) today announced legislation that will provide increased flexibility for local health departments to maximize the billing of insurance companies, ensure a focus on key health services and permit the state to assist local health departments in emergency situations.
“This legislation gives local health departments the flexibility to diversify their revenue stream by billing insurance companies at the maximum allowable rates across all 55 counties,” said Dr. Rahul Gupta, State Health Officer and Commissioner for the Bureau for Public Health. “For many years, the state has had to subsidize local programs and services. As more residents than ever before are insured, we must shift this financial burden from the backs of West Virginia taxpayers to insurance companies.”
The legislation follows 10 meetings of the Public Health Impact Task Force in 2015, as well as several other meetings with local health departments, members of boards of health, and local health officers which focused on making local health departments more effective and more efficient.
For more than a decade, local health departments were shielded from budget reductions while other health agencies like Federally Qualified Health Centers and free clinics experienced budget cuts ranging from 38 to 40 percent.
“Local health department funding reductions should not come as a surprise to anyone since our local health partners are tightening their budgets and having to do more with less,” said Gupta. “This legislation will help them to position themselves in a manner where they can move from surviving to thriving, while improving the health and well-being of the citizens of West Virginia.”
John Deskins, director and associate professor of economics at West Virginia University, authored a study that examines the growing financial difficulties placed on the public health system due to losses in population, decreased tax revenue and the challenges of assuring basic public health services are provided.
“We found that $3.8 million in clinical services revenue could be generated if all local health departments billed at the same capacity as the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department and at least $7.7 million if they billed at the same capacity of Monongalia County Health Department,” said Deskins.
“During my tenure at the Kanawha-Charleston and Putnam County Health Departments, we significantly enhanced the billing efficiencies, and they now serve as a model for the state,” said Gupta. “When the Putnam County Health Department was in financial crisis, I implemented this administrative model, which was paramount to restoring their financial solvency.”
“This proposed legislation will allow every local health department that needs revenue to bill at the maximum level, and we appreciate the willingness of legislators to consider this change,” Gupta continued. “It ensures evidence-based programs are available to the community and allows BPH to assist where needed.”
In addition to improving billing efficiency for local health departments, the bill will allow the Bureau for Public Health to ensure local programming plans are evidence-based with measurable outcomes, to ensure resources are expended in a cost-effective and efficient manner with measurable outcomes. In addition, it provides a mechanism for the state to assist local health departments that may find themselves in an emergency or a financial situation where necessary services are not provided.
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