WV PEIA officials want more subsidies

An editorial from The Inter-Mountain

ELKINS, W.Va. — If you live in a household of four in West Virginia, your family’s share of annual subsidies for the Public Employees Insurance Agency is nearly $920. PEIA officials want more. Much more.

They are not above using the calendar to get it.

Open enrollment for the tens of thousands of active and retired government employees who get their health insurance from the PEIA is beginning. That means the agency has to have information on benefits ready for clients.

In most years, that would have been easy. Legislators usually approve the state budget in early to mid-March. That did not happen this year – in part because of the PEIA.

Legislators and Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin need to close a shortfall estimated at between $240 million and $466 million before they can put a spending plan in place. Part of the reason for that is that PEIA officials have said they would have to slash benefits by about $120 million unless they receive higher budget subsidies.

It is not as if the PEIA receives no help from taxpayers. The current spending plan includes $422 million in subsidies. That is about one-tenth of the entire general revenue budget.

And it is not as if lawmakers, both Democrat and Republican, rejected PEIA officials’ demands for more money. They were discussed throughout the 60-day legislative session. A plan at one point seemed in place to increase taxes on tobacco products by about $115 million a year, with much of that going to the PEIA.

That fell through, but there is every reason to believe some help for the PEIA will be included when a budget is enacted, perhaps later this month.

But the fact it is not in place fell conveniently into the laps of PEIA officials who would rather demand more from taxpayers than find ways to limit their own spending.

Here is what PEIA board member Mike Smith said of the situation this week: “It’s obvious that the powers that be think state employees have a job and they should be happy with that – with its low pay and now its not-so-great benefits.”

That kind of talk should infuriate Tomblin and legislators of both parties. Taxpayers already provide massive help to the PEIA. More is in the pipeline. Yet the governor and lawmakers, who have to worry – as they should – about hundreds of thousands of West Virginians paid less and with lower benefits than state employees, are being portrayed as villains. Why? Simply because, when PEIA officials said “jump” those in the Capitol did not reply, “How high?”

Earlier this year, legislators discussed reforms to the PEIA itself. Clearly, that is a topic to which they should return.

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