CHARLESTON — The PEIA Task Force, set up to try to stabilize the insurance program for West Virginia Public Employees, got an overview of how the system works.
The task force chairman, Justice administration chief of staff Mike Hall, said the broad view is necessary as the 29 members work through how to shore up the insurance plan.
The task force heard about an array of issues affecting the insurance plan, including the rising cost of prescription drugs, the relative age and health of West Virginia’s insured population, some effects of the Affordable Care Act and the cost of receiving health care across state lines.
Prior to the 2 p.m. Tuesday meeting at the state Culture Center, the task force posted the full presentation by PEIA Director Ted Cheatham.
He described PEIA as a billion-dollar health plan that serves three groups: state employees, non-state agencies and retirees.
Cheatham, at the beginning of his presentation, addressed the sometimes popular idea that PEIA might be able to privatize.
He said that would be a major change.
The agency currently has only about 60 people administering health plans that are largely privatized, he said.
To fully privatize might require a company with a staff more in the range of 250, Cheatham told the group.
As recently as 1995, state employees did not pay for health insurance, Cheatham said. In the years since then, costs have gone up significantly for the state and for those who are insured.
“Can you tell me what you think is the primary driver of the price increase every year?” asked task force member Mick Bates, a Democratic delegate from Raleigh County.
Cheatham specified that drug costs have gone up dramatically.
“Drugs are a huge problem. The rest of medical inflation is prices are just creeping up over time,” Cheatham told task force members.
Cheatham told the task force he would like to get to the point where members of the public take a greater interest in controlling their health care costs in the market.
He used an example of X-rays at the dentist that might be covered by insurance but also might drive up premiums in the long-term.
“I want to get to a plan where people want to manage their healthcare,” he said. “Ultimately, I want people to shop.”
Cheatham said the cost of healthcare is four times higher across state borders, and PEIA is doing everything possible to encourage people to seek care in state.
Task force member Amy Loring, who works for Berkeley County Schools, expressed concern about public employees who work in border counties and find it convenient to seek care out of state. Some may actually commute to West Virginia to work while seeking care in their own communities.
“I don’t think the border county situation is unique just to the Eastern Panhandle,” said Loring, who is human resources director and director of staffing and employee relations for the school system. “There are several other border counties that have the same concerns that we do.”
Hall, the chief of staff for the Justice administration, said the task force will likely have at least 11 regional public hearings around West Virginia.
That’s one issue the public outreach subcommittee will discuss when it meets April 19.
Hall said the next full meeting of the task force will be announced at a later date.