The state Legislature will be in the area during the next three days for interim sessions, and members will take the opportunity to hold a health forum at Fairmont State University on Monday that will allow area residents to question lawmakers and learn updated information on impending legislation.

“It’s sort of like a public meeting where I will chair the meeting and introduce members of our health care project that we’re doing this year,” said Sen. Roman Prezioso, D-Marion, who also serves as the chair of the Senate’s Health and Human Resources Committee.

The project is a potential overhaul of the health-care system in the state as far as Legislative programs and funding are concerned.

Dr. Ken Thorpe, a professor of health policy at Emory University in Atlanta, has been hired as a consultant to look into the state’s health-care system and make recommendations, which he plans to have done before the start of the 2009 legislative session.

“What we’ve done is laid out a vision for reforming health care in the state in terms of how it’s delivered, recognizing that in West Virginia, most of the health-care dollars are linked to patients with chronic diseases, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, depression and anxiety — the list goes on,” Thorpe said.

The meeting will be held at 6 p.m. Monday at FSU’s Falcon Center, Prezioso said, and while he does not expect all legislators who will be attending interims in Bridgeport from Sunday through Tuesday to attend, he believes several will.

Health is an issue that requires addressing, Prezioso noted, estimating that more than $3 billion in state and federal funds are spent in West Virginia on programs that include Medicare, Medicaid, Public Employees Insurance Agency, the Children’s Health Insurance Program and workers’ compensation.

Also, West Virginia residents generally are at the top of lists in terms of smoking, obesity and other lifestyle issues that contribute to chronic diseases.

“In health care, 80 percent of the money is backloaded in dealing with chronic illness when residents get older, including smoking-related diseases and obesity,” Prezioso said. “We would like to move that sum of the money to the front end of it and do cholesterol maintenance, blood pressure maintenance, etc., to prevent that excessive money we’re paying at the end. That’s what’s hurting the West Virginia system.”

Groups are studying four areas, both Prezioso and Thorpe said: investigating innovative approaches to providing health care to the chronically ill; disease prevention; health information technology; and simplifying administration and health costs.

“How do we make it less expensive but better quality, less complicated for patients and doctors in the health care system?” Thorpe said.

Thorpe already has served as a consultant for the health system of the state of Vermont, he said. West Virginia presents more challenges.

“All of the health indicators are far worse in West Virginia,” Thorpe said. “There are higher rates of poverty and chronic diseases. It’s more compelling to do it in the state of West Virginia given the obesity rates and prevalence of chronic diseases.”

E-mail Mary Wade Burnside at mwburnside@timeswv.com.

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