Newspaper article Charleston Gazette Mail

CEO Says Move to W.Va. Was Vital ; State Medicaid Group Primed for Growth, Expansion

Newspaper article Charleston Gazette Mail

CEO Says Move to W.Va. Was Vital ; State Medicaid Group Primed for Growth, Expansion

Article excerpt

When Jim Pennington returned to his home state, he knew the company he planned to lead needed to do the same. "When I came in, I felt that I was coming back to West Virginia and making a commitment to West Virginia, and I asked our board if they would support us if we moved the headquarters back to West Virginia, he said.

The Health Plan of the Upper Ohio Valley, a private and government insurer and one of the state's four Medicaid managed- care organizations, announced in December that it would return its main offices to Wheeling by 2017. Pennington, president and CEO of The Health Plan since 2014, said the insurer had moved its operation to nearby St. Clairsville, Ohio, 30 years before, but he and others felt that the company, which was started in West Virginia, needed to return there to move forward. The company plans to construct a 50,000-square-foot, $16 million facility in Wheeling that will house roughly 400 employees.

"It's a West Virginia company, and has been one from day one, Pennington said. "If you look at our objectives, our number one objective, of course, is to grow our revenue, and the best opportunity is in West Virginia with Medicare and Medicaid, and our number two objective ... is to create jobs in West Virginia.

The Health Plan has been expanding its footprint both in West Virginia and nationally - the company has taken on new Medicaid managed care consumers following the state's Medicaid expansion and its decision to include behavioral health services in its managed care program, has taken its self-paying employer program to a new level, and moved its Charleston office earlier this month after adding 40 new staff members.

"We'd like to continue to grow our footprint in Medicaid in West Virginia and the awareness of The Health Plan in West Virginia, Pennington said. "We think we're a very unique company in the sense that we have great relationships with the health-care systems in West Virginia, and we know the market here very well. We think we know the market better than folks from other places that may be trying to come into the state, and we think we're an easier company to work with.

Pennington, an Elkins native and West Virginia University alumnus, has spent 20 of his more than 30-year career in insurance working outside the state, but said the prospect of returning to head up an insurer like The Health Plan was a tempting challenge after all of the changes that have taken place in the insurance business after the passage if the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. …

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