PEIA Task Force subcommittee weighs options for changes

CHARLESTON — Perry Bryant, of West Virginians for Affordable Health Care, said his conversations with teachers led him to conclude they want one focus for the Public Employees Insurance Agency  Task Force.

“What they want is a stable health insurance program, one that can have some predictability,” Bryant, one of the task force members, said during a meeting Thursday afternoon.

“Some want no cost increase ever again. I’m not there. I don’t think you can be there. But trying to build in some stability and predictability, I thought was really important.”

He spoke during a meeting of the cost and plan subcommittee, which is responsible for coming up with ways to get a handle on the finances of public health insurance.

“I hope we can all walk out of here and say, ‘We’re going to provide a stable, secure program for our beneficiaries,’ ” Bryant said.

Bryant floated some of his own ideas, which included changing the PEIA from working on a fiscal year, starting each July, to the calendar year starting each January.

Right now, the Governor’s Office gives PEIA an estimate for how much total money is available in the early to mid-fall. Then the separate PEIA Finance Board works on a proposed annual plan, taking it out to public comment each November.

The plan goes into effect the next July, attuned to the fiscal year.

Bryant said his proposal would give the Legislature the ability to take a look at the proposed plan each January before it would go into effect the following January.

“The Legislature could reject it, accept it or make changes,” Bryant said. “We need the active involvement of the Legislature in deciding what the health insurance program should look like.”

Other members of the task force subcommittee said they would be willing to consider such a change.

“I certainly think it’s worth exploring further,” said Delegate Mick Bates, D-Raleigh.

The PEIA Task Force has been going about its work for several months, completing more than 20 public hearings around the state.

But it gives the impression of still having plenty of work ahead to make recommendations addressing the complexities of public health insurance.

Subcommittee chairman Joe Letnaunchyn, president and chief of the West Virginia Hospital Association, said there is flexibility to reach conclusions.

PEIA costs were frozen until the next fiscal year — almost a year from now. And the program is expected to run a surplus of about $70 million for fiscal year 2019, PEIA Director Ted Cheatham  said.

“I’m not sure we want to just come out and just make recommendations to tap all kinds of sources of new revenue without knowing where we are for the next year or the year after because there’s no gun to our head to fix this in two weeks or a month other than to demonstrate that we’re doing something,” Letnaunchyn said.

“But I’m not sure we sit here today and say we’re going to do this tax or that tax or that tax when Ted may say ‘I don’t need additional revenue for another year. We have some time to look at that and go through the legislative process.’ ”

The cost and revenue subcommittee next meets Sept. 18.

Committee members advocated for a combined meeting that same day with the related coverage and plan subcommittee.

That group is responsible for making recommendations about the scope of what PEIA covers, so their roles are intertwined.

Brad McElhinny  is the statewide correspondent for WVMetroNews.com. Follow him @BradMcElhinny or contact him at brad.mcelhinny@wvmetronews.com.

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