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kathleen stoll

Kathleen Stoll

kathleen stoll

Thanks to my mom, I believe in manners and the art of Southern politeness.

When someone is clearly determined to be plain crazy or stupid, you say, “Bless your heart,” and move along.

Mom did practice persuasion — by pointing to the common ground and “agreeing to disagree” on some issues. Mom’s strategy was partially successful at keeping the food fights to a minimum at holiday family dinners.

Seems to me, Mom’s lessons also are key for advancing policymaking and legislating.

West Virginia legislators of different political parties can find wide expanses of common ground (and agree to disagree as needed) to advance good policy.

Case in point. Republicans and Democrats came together to co-sponsor and advance House Bill 4252 to help West Virginians with diabetes. The bill caps copays on insulin at $35 per month, caps copays for insulin supplies at $100 per month and places a cost cap of $250 for an insulin pump every two years. HB 4252 passed the House Health and Human Resources Committee and is headed to a full House floor vote.

The original bill was drafted several years ago by a coalition of consumers working closely with Delegate Barbara Evans Fleischauer, a Democrat from Monongalia County. The bill that passed the committee this year was introduced by Delegate Matthew Rohrbach, a Republican from Cabell County. Republicans and Democrats co-sponsored the bill. I applaud them all.

Here’s the common ground: All agree that, when a person with diabetes can afford to monitor and regulate their sugar levels, they can stay healthy, avoid more expensive health problems and are better able to work.

According to the American Diabetes Association, 232,000 West Virginia adults (16%) have diagnosed diabetes. An additional 45,000 West Virginians have diabetes but don’t know it, greatly increasing their health risks. Another 35% of West Virginia adults are diagnosed as pre-diabetic. West Virginia has the second-highest diabetes mortality rate in the country.

Technology is quickly replacing finger pricks and test strips to check blood sugar (glucose) levels. Today, sensors, monitors and automatic pumps more accurately deliver insulin and regulate sugar levels. While modern supplies and equipment can greatly improve health and quality of life, many West Virginians simply cannot afford them. Even the “old-fashioned” test strips cost a typical patient over $3,200 a year.

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Uncontrolled diabetes is even more expensive. Uncontrolled blood sugar levels can lead to trips to the hospital for hyperglycemia and hypoglycemia (high and low blood glucose), ulcers, infections, heart attack and acute kidney failure. Long-term uncontrolled diabetes can result in blindness and limb amputations.

From a macro-economic standpoint, uncontrolled diabetes leads to huge workforce productivity losses, including lost household productivity, inability to work, absenteeism — costing our state hundreds of millions of dollars annually.

Republicans and Democrats came together. And isn’t that how it should be? The challenges that face West Virginia families do not align with party affiliation. Diabetes doesn’t care if you are a Republican or Democrat.

Policy does not have to play second fiddle to politics. Policy is the art of finding common ground — not defining differences.

I hope other health challenges will inspire the same kind of bipartisan approach.

In a previous Gazette-Mail op-ed, I highlighted the “Medicaid cliff” challenge. Working together, legislators can pass HB 3001 to create an all federally funded Medicaid buy-in program. A program that will allow a West Virginian to accept a job or a raise or more hours without fear of falling off the “Medicaid cliff” because they earn more than the low-income eligibility level.

The mental health needs of our children demand that both parties work together to support programs that better help our parents and teachers have the tools to find the full potential in every child.

The needs of pregnant women demand that both parties work together to support programs to improve all birth outcomes — programs that don’t judge women but offer them a full array of health and social supports.

During this legislative session, rather than focus on the political “red-meat” inflammatory issues that divide us, West Virginian legislators need to demonstrate that common ground has not been completely plowed under in our country, and that bipartisan policy that strengthens our families and economy can take root and thrive in the Mountain state.

Kathleen Stoll is policy director for West Virginians for Affordable Health Care (wvahc.org) and operates a policy and economic consulting business, Kat Consulting.

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