Let’s Talk about Health Care Disparities in West Virginia

If you don’t have health insurance through an employer and you can’t afford a subsidized plan on the marketplace, how do you know what assistance programs you’re eligible for? Where do you access them?

Navigating the health care system in the United States is a nightmare. The constant budgeting of premiums, copays, deductibles, and reimbursements can be overwhelming. Prescription drug prices continue to climb skyward, even if you have insurance. If you don’t have health insurance through an employer and you can’t afford a subsidized plan on the marketplace, how do you know what assistance programs you’re eligible for? Where do you access them?

Life in West Virginia presents its own set of challenges when it comes to finding quality, affordable health care, many of which have only been magnified by the COVID-19 pandemic. Water and food insecurity are historically pervasive in our state, even in densely populated areas like Charleston. In rural counties where families were already traveling long distances to access health care, the lack of broadband internet restricts their ability to connect to online services like telehealth. We’ve also witnessed glaring racial inequities during the rollout of the COVID vaccine this spring.

Rhonda Rogombe, the health policy analyst for the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy (WVCBP), has been comparing the available data from before, during, and now, after the global health crisis. Her research tells us that Black West Virginians, who make up less than four percent of the state’s population, continue to be uninsured at an increasing and disproportionate rate compared to white residents.

“The most recent data from before the pandemic indicates long-standing inequities, with 10.1 percent of Black West Virginians uninsured, compared to just 8.1 percent of their white counterparts….Experimental data from the US Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey estimates that West Virginia’s statewide Black uninsured rate has jumped to approximately 16 percent over the course of the public health crisis.”

Rogombe’s research also indicates that racial inequalities in health care are often linked to structural barriers and negative stigma towards programs like Medicaid, which provides coverage to roughly a third of all West Virginians. However, more precise investigation is necessary in order to transform these disparities into meaningful policy choices.

Enter, ‘EMEE’ Voices Project

The West Virginia EMEE Voices Project, or “Elevating the Medicaid Enrollment Experience,” is a collaborative effort between WVCBP and West Virginians for Affordable Health Care (WVAHC) to collect stories from real people that may inform which Medicaid barriers are most pertinent to West Virginians, specifically people of color. The project seeks to support administrative policies that will increase qualified West Virginians’ access to Medicaid health insurance.

S hare your story, GET PAID

WVCBP and WVAHC are offering $50 stipends to current and former Medicaid enrollees who are willing to be interviewed about their experiences. Your story will remain confidential, and respondents will not be identified by name. Stories from health care providers, social workers, and others with professional insight into the West Virginia Medicaid enrollment process are also welcome.

To get involved:

● Scan the QR code using your smartphone camera or visit bit.ly/EMEEVoices

● Complete the 5 minute Medicaid Enrollment Survey or the Provider Survey

● Submit your contact information to be considered for a paid follow up interview

Want to connect directly with the WVAHC Storybank? Call or text Mariah Plante at (304) 370-3026 or email mariah@wvahc.org.

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