By JIM ROSS
The State Journal
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Months of debate over state employee insurance costs ended Thursday as the Public Employees Insurance Agency unanimously and without debate approved a plan to increase rates.
Several people attending the meeting at the PEIA office in Kanawha City did address the increase, and all opposed it.
Some suggested the Legislature should adopt a funding system that dedicates a specific revenue stream to the PEIA, although none specified what the source of that revenue should be.
As enacted by the PEIA Finance Board, active state employees will see a rate increase of one-half of 1 percent, as required by the state law that mandates employees pay 20 percent of their insurance costs. The pharmacy deductible is removed under some plans. The plan condenses the 10 existing salary tiers into three.
People who are not state employees would see their premiums increase by 2 percent.
The plan runs for calendar year 2019 for Medicare retirees and fiscal year 2019 — July 1, 2018, to June 30, 2019 — for all others.
Elaine Harris, international representative of the Communication Workers of America, which represents public safety workers, asked the board to consider a long-term solution to the constantly increasing insurance premiums.
“We would be willing to sit down and work on solutions, but it has to be a long-term solution,” she said.
Del. Dianna Graves, R-Kanawha, told the board, “Surely there is a way to close the loopholes without placing nooses around the neck of working persons.”
After the meeting, Christine Campbell, president of the American Federation of Teachers of West Virginia, said at least the board considered public comment in refining its plan.
“It appeared to us during the hearings they were listening. They looked at all issues in the plan and made some adjustments, which is encouraging,” she said.
And legislators should expect to hear from lobbyists representing state employees when the session begins next month, she said.
The PEIA conducted several hearings in cities throughout the state to get public feedback. PEIA executive Ted Cheatham said people affected by the proposed increases gave input on what they wanted and what they didn’t want, and “we tried to address all those issues the best we could.”
When asked about the possibility of a dedicated revenue stream to fund PEIA and take some of the burden off employees, Cheatham said he has not heard suggestions about where such a stream would come from, and he would not be the person to make those suggestions.
John Myers, director of administration for the state and chairman of the PEIA board, said there has been talk of a dedicated revenue stream, but it has not gotten much further than that.
“That conversation’s been ongoing for a long time. It’s just trying to decide where you can take the money from. If you put it in there and dedicate it, it comes from somewhere else. It’s a balancing act,” he said.
“The conversation’s been going on long before this board was begun, and I don’t know that we’ve made a lot of progress on it.”
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