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AARP Fighting to Improve West Virginia Health, Health Care

AARP’s Angela Vance is fighting to improve the health—and health care—of all West Virginians.

Vance, AARP West Virginia’s director of advocacy, is a member of the Governor's Office of Health Enhancement and Lifestyle Planning (GOHELP) Advisory Council. GOHELP recently conducted its inaugural meeting, which included a surprise appearance by West Virginia Governor Joe Manchin.

"I believe if you give us a healthy population and a healthy work force, and we do our job with education, a diversified state work force will result," Manchin told the panel.

Created by the Legislature during the 2009 regular session, GOHELP is intended to promote healthy lifestyle initiatives and to coordinate state agencies that provide health-care services.

Vance said the legislation that created GOHELP puts the Mountain State on the leading edge of health reform in the country. “AARP played a critical role in the passage of this legislation,” she said, “and now we have an opportunity, through our seat on GOHELP, to greatly improve the health of all West Virginians through the improved delivery of health care and lower health care costs.”

Manchin told the panel he believes health coverage can be made available to all West Virginians without exorbitant costs, if health-care dollars can be spent more efficiently. "We've got public option now—it's just not a good option. If you're poor, and you get sick, you go to the emergency room," he said.

GOHELP's has an annual budget of $500,000 and only two employees on its payroll. Another four employees are "on loan" from the state Department of Health and Human Resources (DHHR) and from the state Insurance Commission.

The acting director is former Health and Human Resources Secretary Martha Walker. GOHELP is also comprised of the heads of DHHR, the Public Employees Insurance Agency and the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP), along with two physicians, a nurse, and representatives of consumer groups.

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