(04/04/2006)
Gov. Joe Manchin signed eight bills into law yesterday to improve the health of West Virginians, saying "We should not be ranked as the most unhealthy state in the nation."

There was a bill to extend health care to many low-income workers, another to improve mental health services, and several to target specific diseases.

HB4488 creates a commission to review the state's mental-health system, a project that Delegate Barbara Hatfield, D-Kanawha, has tried to move forward for 10 years.

The mental health system privatized itself several years ago, which forced it to focus on areas where it got paid, often neglecting the neediest cases or services where individuals were in crisis and had no health coverage.

A local mental health center in Wheeling has praised itself for such management practices, like paying its administrator a half-million dollars, mostly using taxpayer money.

This regions mental health center, Westbrook, for several years focused on building or using up-scale facilities to attract private payers.

The new commission will determine where West Virginia spends its mental-health dollars.

Delegate Barbara Hatfield said "I find it incredible that we don't even know how much we spend on mental health every year, much less whether it's working."

Lawmakers, mental health professionals and advocates for the mentally ill will be on the commission.

West Virginia has one of the nation's highest rates of serious mental illness and suicides, according to federal statistics.

Gov. Manchin and the Legislature also passed a $20 million package to hire more caseworkers to make sure mentally ill people get community treatment, and a bill that allows judges to order "revolving-door" mental patients to take their medication.

A bill that prevents drug addicted or alcoholic individuals to prevent them from being committed to a mental hospital. They must be a danger to themselves and others.

Manchin says he is committed to make West Virginia a leader in mental-health care.

Manchin signed into law his health-care plan for low-income workers.

The measure allows people to pay a certain amount each month in exchange for basic health-care services.

The plan will be available at eight public and private health clinics later this year.

The bill helps people to buy catastrophic health-care insurance, covering big-ticket items like emergency visits and hospital stays.

A pre-paid clinic plan, the insurance could give basic coverage to thousands of residents.

The bill allows an additional 4,000 children whose parents have moderate incomes to qualify for the state Children's Health Insurance Program.

It includes a study on how to move the state toward universal health-care coverage.

About 30 additional school nurses will be hired for the state's schools.

Another bill will create a confidential registry of people with Alzheimer's disease.

- The Arthritis Prevention Education Act to teach health-care providers and patients how to manage the disease.

- The Affordable Group Health Insurance Act, allowing insurance companies to sell scaled-down insurance to part-time and temporary employees.

www.legis.state.


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