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PEIA hearing in Morgantown

Sam Brunett said was pretty sure the comments made during the Nov. 9 Public Employee Insurance Agency hearing in Morgantown weren’t going to add up to much.

What is adding up, however, he said, are premium costs for the plan that covers teachers and other state employees across West Virginia.

“It’s a revolving door,” said Brunett, who teaches art at Morgantown High School and is president of the Monongalia Chapter of the American Federation of Teachers, one of two such unions in the Mountain State.

That is, the money that comes into his house via his paycheck – cycles back out just as quickly, due to PEIA.

“I’m trying to raise two teenaged boys on a teacher’s salary,” he said.

And the persistent whir he’s hearing at home, he said, is the sound of that revolving door getting ready to rev up a couple more notches.

Those covered by the plan are looking at a 10% increase in their premiums for the next fiscal year.

Add that to the 24% hike policy holders just absorbed, along with that $147 a month surcharge for spouses, which was approved this past March.

Don’t get him wrong, he said. He loves his job and was named state Art Educator of Year in 2018, in fact.

He’s also coming up his 30th year in the profession. Now, he isn’t so sure about young people following him into the field.

“This is going to keep kids away,” he of the rising cost of benefits. “We aren’t gonna be able to recruit anybody.”

The math is mean on this one, he said. Relatively speaking.

While people covered by PEIA pay less than those who aren’t, he said, sticker shock is still just that.

Prior to those spring increases, a family earning $50,000 paid about $1,262 a month for their PEIA premium, according to numbers from the state Chamber of Commerce.

In comparison, the monthly bill for a similar family on private insurance came out to $1,949 during that same time period, the Chamber said.

Add another 10% to the 24% hike already approved, and you’ll have a PEIA family paying around $1,720, come 2024.

That’s with principal wage-earners working in a profession who haven’t seen a raise in several years, Brunett said.

In the meantime, PEIA officials have launched their annual road-trip tours across the state discussing coverage – premiums, payouts, and the like.

Sessions have already been held Wheeling and Martinsburg, and the Nov. 9 hearing in Morgantown is at the Holiday Inn-University Area on Pineview Drive.

After the 5 p.m. registration time, the public comment portion is set for 6.

Brunett, as said, doesn’t expect any of those comments will move the needle, anytime soon.

After additional stops in Charleston and Bluefield, the hearings close with a virtual session later this month.

Then, the PEIA Finance Board will make a final vote in December – which the Morgantown High teacher and union representative says has already been cast, in effect.

“It really comes down to the governor and the Legislature,” he said.

“This is like a train going in slow motion towards a brick wall. You already know what’s going to happen.”