By Bob Weaver|
Health care in the Appalachian mountains will be scrutinized for the first
time in many years, creating a data-base in the 13-state, 199,000 square mile
area that stretches from New York to Mississippi. The $150,000 project is
being funded by the Appalachian Regional Commission.
Cancer, heart disease and infant mortality rates have been infamously
The data-base is described as a top-to-bottom review of health problems,
including accessibility problems often experienced in the rural areas of
central and southern West Virginia.
The Aging Well project which has focused on Calhoun County, including their
international conference which came to rural areas of West Virginia, has
highlighted problems with access. Fear has been expressed in Washington
that the tax cut would scale back rural health services, requiring older and
economically deprived residents to face access barriers.
Broad-based health care organizations like Minnie Hamilton Health Care
provide a large menu of services to rural areas, and the study could impact
on the future of the institution.
Currently, most rural residents are unable to afford the annual premiums for
private insurance which cost between $4000-$6500 and significant scale
backs in Medicaid coverage means more people are "unqualified."
The Southwest Virginia Graduate Medical Education Consortium has found
that residents in the far western section of Virginia in the mountains, die
30% faster that the rest of the state.
The UVA study said that mountain people are more than 50% likely to die of
chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, 26% more likely to die of heart
disease and more than 53% more likely to die of pneumonia or flu. They are
also 60% more likely to die of suicide.
The ARC project will also target the financial conditions of the 13-state
region, attempting to determine where need may be greatest. or where
financial cutbacks in Washington would be most dramatically felt. The
Appalachian region was also found to have 30% fewer physicians.
Rural health problems are compounded with a national health system which
continues with over 50 million people unable to afford insurance and millions
more with HMO's that throw-up barriers or limit access to care.
Insurance premiums continue to rise between 12-17% each year, causing
businesses to cancel insurance coverage or opt to have employees pick up
more of the tab. America spends about 15% of its gross national product, the
most of any country, on care that often does not reach its citizens.