CHARLESTON — A task force on the Public Employees Insurance Agency started its work Tuesday, but the heavy lifting is still ahead.

Gov. Jim Justice signed an executive order to establish the task force after teachers and other public employees complained about the skyrocketing out-of-pocket costs of their health insurance plans.

“Let’s get it done. Let’s do it. I can never thank you enough for being here,” Justice told task force members prior to the meeting.

The 29-member committee next plans to meet April 10 at the state Culture Center to go over the basics of how PEIA works and what its financial status is.

“We’ll go over in detail how this plan works,” said chairman Mike Hall, the chief of staff for the Justice administration. “What I would think we would have to do as a task force is to know exactly what we’re talking about.

“You’ll see how all the different things work, what drives the costs, what the reserves are. I think that’ll be critical as we go forward.”

The committee agreed to divide itself into three groups: coverage and plan review, cost and revenue and legislative and public outreach.

Judy Hale, a retired educator who was president of the American Federation of Teachers-West Virginia, said she would like to focus on potential revenue streams to shore up PEIA funding. She mentioned gambling and severance taxes as two areas.

“I was hoping we would spend a great deal of time on that,”
Hale said.

Dale Lee, president of the West Virginia Education Association, focused on public hearings to be made available for the residents of all 55 counties.

“I would think that with a committee of this size, with 29 people, that we could really divide up into subgroups to go into the 55 counties to hear the concerns of the people,” Lee said.

Hall responded, “I’m glad to hear you say that because that’s what I had in mind.”

Hall said the goal is to have recommendations at least in time for December legislative interim meetings and also in time for the PEIA Finance Board to start considering plans for the 2020 fiscal year.

“I would encourage us to accelerate,” said Senate Finance Chairman Craig Blair, R-Berkeley. “It’s a lot easier to have a special session, laser beam focus on something like this, rather than calling it up in a 60-day session.”

Hall said he doesn’t want to cut short the public hearing process, but otherwise “If we can have a report ready for the public by the first of the summer, it would be fine with me.”

Task force members include 21 men and eight women from the insurance industry, school teachers and superintendents, other state workers, state lawmakers and healthcare fields.