West Virginia Passes Free Market Solution to Increase Healthcare Access

West Virginia is working to advance a program that will help create more access to healthcare for those in need while preventing more government dependency and keeping the funding burden low.

Senate Bill 658 by Kanawha County Republican Ed Gaunch would bring $8 million in healthcare to the poor of West Virginia without costing the taxpayers a penny by letting healthcare providers volunteer their services in exchange for continuing education credits towards their license renewal.

The bill helps providers and patients. Low-income, uninsured and underinsured patients receive the quality healthcare they need while healthcare providers get the liability protection the program provides. The West Virginia Senate and House passed the legislation unanimously.

“We’re so thankful the Legislature unanimously supported this common-sense approach to helping underserved West Virginians get access to the care they need while providing a shield for the state’s Good Samaritans, the health care professionals who go out of their way to offer free care and supplies to low-income patients,” said Andrew Brown, senior fellow with the Foundation for Government Accountability in a statement. “Hopefully Gov. Earl Tomblin will share the Legislature’s enthusiasm to bring the Volunteer Care program to West Virginia and sign this bill in to law.”

This legislation was modeled on a program in Florida that has brought nearly $1.3 billion in free healthcare to the Sunshine State.

“We believe that West Virginia will see results comparable to those achieved in Florida,” Brown told Opportunity Lives, “Based on the data we have on the Florida program and taking into account the population and demographics of West Virginia, we project that the program can generate over $8 million worth of free care each year for patients in need.”

Low-income, uninsured and underinsured patients receive the quality healthcare they need while healthcare providers get the liability protection the program provides

This is especially important for a state that is struggling economically. “It’s no secret that the state of the economy is one of the leading concerns among West Virginians,” Brown explained. “The state consistently ranks as one of the top 10 poorest states in terms of overall poverty rate, and roughly 20 percent of the state’s population is enrolled in Medicaid.”

Brown also spoke about the program’s ability to bring medical care to rural areas that do not always have access.

“More than half of West Virginians live in rural areas where accessing quality medical care is often more difficult than in more urban areas,” he said. “Enacting Volunteer Care in West Virginia will help improve access by increasing the number of professionals providing free care to those in need and making that care more mobile.”

The medical field is about helping people, and there are people who need help in West Virginia and around the country. Programs like this simply make it possible for the resource already available in the community to meet the need. This is why, Brown explained, the bill received unanimous support.

“The wonderful thing about Volunteer Care, and I think what makes it so attractive to policymakers on both sides of the aisle, is that it uses resources that we already have at our fingertips,” he said. “Medical professionals want to help those in need, so why not get rid of administrative burdens that prevent them from doing this and put barriers between providers and low-income patients?”

“The simple act of getting government out of the way to let doctors, nurses, dentists, and other professionals to do what they do best will unleash untold benefits for the people of West Virginia,” he added.

Amelia Hamilton is a contributor for Opportunity Lives. You can follow her on Twitter @ameliahammy.