West Virginia Public Employees Voice Concern Over PEIA Coverage

14 Feb

For many public employees in West Virginia, the proposed premium increases and changes in coverage provided by the Public Employees Insurance Agency (PEIA) have caused an uproar in complaints and concerns.

On Tuesday night, teachers, state troopers, retirees, and public employees alike gathered at the Erickson Alumni Center at West Virginia University to lobby for better benefits, better pay, and overall better treatment.

Lobbyists were on the scene as early as 5 p.m. showing their opposition to the recent proposal to freeze the current PEIA plan for 17 months, and to voice their need for a permanent solution. Those that were there presented posters, shared personal stories, and chanted as loud and proud as they could.

The meeting began at 6 p.m. with Ted Cheatham, the director of the PEIA Finance Board discussing the newest round of proposed plans for PEIA coverage.

The newest plan proposes no increases in premium, no benefit changes, no coverage based off total family income, and reduced copays to $30 per visit. If approved, this plan will take effect after the current plan to freeze PEIA for 17 months, which still needs to be voted on by the West Virginia State Legislature.

To put this plan back in position, nearly $29 million is needed.

Compared to the original proposal released by PEIA on Dec. 8, 2017, this plan will save you a pretty penny!

The original proposal entailed a 0.5% premium increase, total family income to be used as the basis for calculating premiums in the ‘employee and spouse’ and ‘family’ coverage tiers, and $40 per visit copays.

Most of the concern comes from active teachers and public education employees like cooks, custodians, and bus drivers.

In an interview with Ellen Shepherd, a special educator from Randolph County, she addresses the board and states, “This past Friday my children stayed home from school with strep throat. They may have $100 that they can throw down on a Thursday afternoon, but most of us do not. Increases in premium and copays will make it even harder to get by.”

For me, the greatest concern is getting by with everyday expenses when insurance premiums are sky-rocketing and pay raises are not. How is someone supposed to pay for their groceries and gas when they have to fork over a $40 copay, as well as the price of their medication?

The recent changes by PEIA have made it very difficult for state employees to get by. Those nearing retirement have found that it may be best to retire early, while their PEIA benefits are still in tact, and then return to teaching later in life.

This issue hits close to home because my mother is an educator, insured by PEIA. Every pay cycle, almost $250 is taken out of her pocket to pay for the insurance my family needs. She works tirelessly to not only make sure her students are prepared for the future, but to also ensure that her family has the coverage they need.

She is shaping the minds of future West Virginians, so why are her benefits becoming a burden?

The resounding message from the event was that freezing PEIA will not work. The only solution for this problem is to find a permanent source of funding.

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