Guest Essays, Letters to the Editor, Opinion

Guest essay: More choices in managed care equals savings

by Sen. Mike Oliverio 

The free market is a good thing. Competition drives up performance and keeps costs low. That is the same in the public sector as the private. That is why I supported the passage of Senate Bill 476 last session.  

The bill passed last legislative session, and it opened the Medicaid managed care program to additional insurance providers. It will increase competition in the program and drive down costs so we can save tax dollars and improve health care outcomes.  

The bill will help us to reduce the cost for the state by introducing free-market principles into the Medicaid managed care program. The increased competition will also give those on Medicaid more power to select the health care providers that are right for them.  

There is now no need for Charleston and Washington bureaucrats to have a say in the marketplace of health insurance for those on Medicaid. It is a matter between a patient and their doctor to decide which insurance plan works the best. Here in the Mountain State, there is no reason to allow for needless regulatory red-tape, and that is exactly what we have done away with in this bill, while allowing for West Virginians to make sure they have more money in their wallets.  

The people of West Virginia deserve to have their tax dollars work for them. The citizens of this state have been subsidizing a program that did not deliver for them under the old model. West Virginia is one of the unhealthiest states in the country. As a fiscal conservative, I know the importance of a higher rate of return for the investment, and the state of West Virginia was not getting the returns it deserved for the money we have been pouring into Medicaid.  

The way Medicaid had previously functioned in West Virginia, bureaucrats in Charleston were able to solely determine the three companies that could receive Medicaid contracts and provide insurance coverage. This lack of competition substantially drove up costs for consumers while restricting consumer choice.  

This was fiscally unsustainable in a state where over 665,000 West Virginians are on Medicaid and the state government allots over $5 billion out of the budget for suboptimal returns. Studies have shown that West Virginians on Medicaid are unhealthier than plan participants in other states. And working-aged, able-bodied people on Medicaid in this state have a lower workforce participation rate than those on Medicaid in other states. This law will help reverse that trend by making sure plan participants are healthier, while at the same time saving the state money. 

In addition, over half of our state’s children also receive their health care coverage under Medicaid. In the past, substantial funds were being spent for lackluster results. This deprived the citizens and youth of this state critical funding that could be spent in other sectors.   

Senate Bill 476 helps unleash the power of the free market, and now that it is law, we can enjoy the rewards of that endeavor. It will not only make our state more fiscally responsible, but also encourages better health outcomes and more freedom for the people of West Virginia.  

Sen. Mike Oliverio is the West Virginia senator representing Monongalia and Marion counties.