CHARLESTON -- West Virginia now has a strategic plan toward health care reform. Reform that will address the state's most serious health challenges, from obesity to access to affordable health care.

For too many years, the people of the Mountain State have struggled with unhealthy lifestyles, poor health choices and a health care system that didn't properly address these problems. That's not to say we have poor doctors or bad hospitals or lackadaisical insurers. We simply have a lot of serious health challenges that are symptomatic of a system that isn't working as it should.

West Virginia has significantly higher rates of chronic diseases and disabling injuries than the rest of the country. Too many of us – including our children -– are overweight, use tobacco products, and don't have health insurance. These concerns, put together among others, are a deadly combination that's not only unnecessarily affecting our quality of life, it's burdening our families, our businesses and the state budget with high health care costs.

Earlier this month, my administration completed our strategic vision and action plan on improving the state's health. The report outlines our progress and establishes the principles on which we will guide our health care reform.

A big part of that progress is our efforts, both public and private, to draw attention to wellness and prevention programs. From workplaces to elementary schools, I think West Virginians are realizing they have to eat better, exercise and take care of themselves mentally and physically.

In addition to awareness, we're working to control health care costs without sacrificing quality. We've established public-private partnerships that are providing lower-priced health insurance to small businesses and individuals. We're hoping to reduce the cost of care through better health information technology. The "E-prescriptions" bill I introduced this past legislative session was a big step toward more accurate prescriptions and more efficient delivery of critical medications.

Prevention and health promotion will remain cornerstones of our state health policy. The responsibility lies not just with government, educators and employers, but with every West Virginian. And we all should be able to obtain health care that is affordable, whether it's routine checkups or required care from specialists. It will take a partnership between the government, businesses and the health care industry to ensure responsible use of government funds and high-quality, affordable health care for each of us.

We're not just unhappy if we're not healthy. We cannot compete if we are not healthy. We cannot attract new businesses. We cannot retain our college graduates, and we cannot sustain a strong economy. We cannot afford not to take action now.

I encourage you to download the report and take a close look at our four strategic goals that will help us address our health challenges today so we can meet the goals of our future. Visit and click on the "State Health Report" button in the right-hand column.

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