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House committee advances bill to restructure Bureau for Medical Services

By ANDREA LANNOM

The Register-Herald

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A House committee advanced a bill Tuesday that would restructure the Department of Health and Human Resources and killed a bill that would raise the legal age to buy cigarettes.

The House Committee on Health and Human Resources approved House Bill 2376, which would rename the Bureau for Medical Services as the Department for Medical Services which referred it to the House Committee on Government Organization.

Under the revamping,the commissioner would become secretary, answerable to the governor. The bill would reorganize the department and the secretary would have the authority to reorganize the bureaus under that purview.

Department of Health and Human Resources Secretary Bill Crouch said he doesn’t think separating the bureau from DHHR is the best way to go because it could affect funding from block grants. If the entities were separated, then the funds would be split between the two.

Delegate Barbara Evans Fleischauer, D-Monongalia, said this is something the Legislature has grappled with for years, saying the biggest concern is the size of the DHHR, which has 5,500 employees.

Delegate Joe Ellington, R-Mercer, who is the lead sponsor of the bill, said the reasoning behind the bill is the size of the DHHR and concern over efficiencies. Ellington, who chairs the committee, said the goal is to give Crouch more time within each division in the DHHR besides having to worry about Medicaid.

Members voted against HB 2331, which would raise the age to buy cigarettes from 18 to 21 years old. A similar bill was introduced in the Senate and was recently advanced out of the chamber’s Committee on Health and Human Resources. The bill was referred to the Senate Finance Committee after much debate.

Delegate Shawn Fluharty, D-Ohio, said he has concerns in the language of the bill and how it relates to charges of gross misconduct. He used the example of an employee taking a smoke break and giving a cigarette unknowingly to someone under 21 years old, saying in that example, that person would be guilty of gross misconducDr. Rahul Gupta, commissioner for the Bureau for Public Health, cited several statistics for the state. He said the Mountain State competes with Kentucky for the top rank or second for the last couple of decades for tobacco use. He said West Virginia has high instances of cancers, lung disease and heart disease.

He said by increasing the age, it would reduce disease rates and also reduce premature death by 10 percent.

Two other states — Hawaii and California — have recently increased the age to legally use tobacco along with several municipalities throughout the country.

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