CHARLESTON, W.Va. — West Virginians’ health concerns could drastically improve if residents connected with a primary doctor, said an official with the state Department of Health and Human Resources on Monday.

The DHHR staged a meeting at the University of Charleston to promote the Coverage to Care program, which urges West Virginians who have obtained healthcare coverage under the Affordable Care Act to choose a primary doctor.

“In the state of West Virginia we know our health statistics are troubling,” said DHHR Cabinet Secretary Karen Bowling. “We believe part of that problem is associated with the fact that people are not connected to a primary health provider.”

Highland Hospital president and CEO Cynthia Persily explained that a primary provider has many advantages health-wise because it knows a patient best.

“It’s important to have a primary care provider who knows you,” she said. “Who knows what’s best for you, who can work with you to help you meet health and wellness goals, who can understand what preventative care you need, and who can help you with your emotional and mental well being as well as deal with physical problems.”

Dan Walker, the director of pharmacy services for Highland Companies, said primary care is important from a pharmaceutical standpoint as well.

“It’s very critical. A lot of times in pharmacy we think of ourselves as the point of the spear in healthcare,” he said. “We see a lot of the customers on a lot more consistent basis than they see a regular provider.”

While acknowledging that residents living in rural areas of West Virginia are challenged to find a primary doctor, Bowling said resources are available.

More than 190,000 West Virginians have received medical insurance because of expansion of the state’s Medicaid program, which now includes people with incomes up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level.

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