BY JARETT LEWIS
CHARLESTON — For the fourth time this month, the Finance Board for the Public Employees Insurance Agency took public comments regarding the proposed premium increases for state workers.
The PEIA Finance Board is proposing:
- 10.5% premium increases and no benefits changes for state employees who get the insurance.
- 13% premium increases for employees of local governments that opt into PEIA, plus the addition of a surcharge for eligible spouses of about $147.
- No changes in premiums or benefits for retirees who are eligible for Medicare.
- 10% premium increases and no changes in benefits for people who are old enough to have retired but not old enough to be eligible for Medicare.
Earlier this year, the Legislature passed a bill that made it mandatory for PEIA to enact a 80-20 cost split between the employer and employees. That has been the cost ratio set in state code.
PEIA costs for employees are now looking at going up for two straight years.
Monday night’s public hearing was in Charleston at the state Culture Center. The board has already been in Wheeling, Martinsburg and Morgantown, mostly hearing the same things from concerned state employees.
Dr. Steven Eshenaur, public health officer for the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department, called the PEIA increases for health departments across the state “unsustainable.”
“The projected costs for health insurance for our employees … we cannot sustain these types of raises and carry a balanced budget,” Eshenaur said.
Monica Mason, executive director of the Kanawha County Emergency Ambulance Authority, said the 13% premium increase and the spousal surcharge are great concerns for their employees.
“By inserting PEIA into our employee’s decisions, it will negatively impact our ability to retain and recruit personnel,” Mason said.
Larry Deitz with the Kanawha County Sheriff’s Department told the board he usually doesn’t endure problems with PEIA, but that has changed in recent months.
“Recently, it’s been an absolute nightmare for me and my family,” Deitz said. “I’ve spent hundreds of hours of my personal time dealing with issues that PEIA has screwed up, costing me thousands of dollars out of my own pocket.”
Executive director of the West Virginia School Service Personnel Association Joe White pleaded with the board to reconsider the proposals.
“There needs to be a way that employees are not harmed in this process,” said White. “There must be sit-down conversations with everyone at the table to make this work.”
Meanwhile, a local resident, David Morton, didn’t need to go up to the podium where the microphone was to speak. He shouted from his seat at the board members, saying these proposed increases better not happen.
“The increases will not happen,” he said. “You give us poor coverage and you’ve taken away our pharmaceutical coverages in certain areas.
“What gives you the right to think you have the right to these increases,” he then asked.
While speaking to the board, Jennifer Harold, county manager for the Kanawha County Commission, said the commission opposes the increases.
“This places an unjust financial burden on those who sacrifice so much for the wellbeing of our community,” said Harold.
Harold made sure to recognize the many state and county employees and first responders who were in the room Monday night. Dozens stood up from the Kanawha County Sheriff’s Office, Metro 911 and the Kanawha County Ambulance Authority.
Harold said over 32,000 people would be negatively impacted statewide.
The PEIA Finance Board will hold a virtual town hall Thursday. The board will then come together to finalize the plan or make adjustments.