CHARLESTON — Senate President Mitch Carmichael’s questions about teachers’ union support for universal health care continued Wednesday during a public employees insurance meeting that included the leaders of West Virginia’s teachers unions.
On Tuesday, Carmichael blasted the national American Federation of Teachers (AFT) union for several planks that came up during its convention last weekend in Pittsburgh. In a series of tweets and in a statement released to the media, Carmichael referenced a “radical socialist agenda.”
He brought up universal health care again Wednesday during a subcommittee meeting of the Public Employees Insurance Agency (PEIA) Task Force.
The Task Force resulted from a statewide strike of teachers who pushed for better pay and stable health care benefits. Carmichael serves on the committee with Christine Campbell, president of the AFT-West Virginia, as well as Dale Lee, president of the West Virginia Education Association (WVEA).
Wednesday morning, Car-michael asked if the union wanted the PEIA Task Force to consider universal health care.
“Let me ask this. This is a question that maybe cuts to the end game,” said Carmichael, R-Jackson. “The AFT and others have wanted universal healthcare. If that’s what we’re gonna do here, it’s a pretty easy recommendation to the cost committee. Is that what you’re going to propose?”
Campbell responded that universal health care is a national goal and isn’t necessarily the scope of statewide initiatives.
“We’re talking about a national group that the state group works under,” Campbell said. “It’s not the same as here’s what’s happening in West Virginia and here’s what we do in West Virginia.”
“To say this is going to be free is not realistic,” Lee said. “The majority of comments did not say this has to be free.”
Carmichael responded: “What you heard in many of these meetings, people said the costs are too high … If that’s where we’re going with this.”
“They want affordable health care,” Camp-bell said.
The subcommittee they serve on, which deals with public outreach, is finishing its conclusions after a series of public hearings all around the state.
Subcommittee members — including Carmichael, Campbell and Lee — agreed that the subcommittee is supposed to summarize what it heard around the state, rather than drawing its own conclusions.
Figuring out what recommendations to embrace to shape the insurance plans — and how to pay for that — would be up to two additional subcommittees and then the full Task Force.
“It goes back to what President Carmichael said at the beginning, our charge is to report what people recommended at these meetings,” Campbell said.
“That’s exactly right, Christine,” Carmichael responded.
Joe White, executive director of West Virginia School Service Personnel Association, agreed.
“Would I like to introduce numbers or recommendations based on my feelings? Yes. But I don’t think that’s appropriate,” White said.
“My question is, when are we going to say, ‘All right, this is what we’ve come up with? Cost is a problem. We know that premiums are a problem.’ When are we going to, as a committee, get together and say these are the top issues?”
The committee agreed that the chairwoman of the subcommittee, Helen Matheny, would come up with a summary with the help of staff. The subcommittee is scheduled to get back together July 31.
The group also talked about when it should conclude its overall recommendations.
“Is it still the full committee’s goal to come up with recommendations by October?” Lee asked.
Mike Hall, the chief of staff for the Justice administration, said, “It has to be an ample amount of time for the PEIA board to respond.”
PEIA Director Ted Cheatham agreed, noting that the separate PEIA Finance Board typically formulates proposals to take out for public comment each November.
“I would like to have it at the end of September, so I can have October to plan,” Cheatham said.