PEIA subcommittee approves summary

CHARLESTON — After a seven-day delay, a subcommittee looking at public comments about the state employee health insurance program approved a summary of those opinions.

The Public Outreach subcommittee for the Public Employees Insurance Agency task force approved a summary report to send to the full taskforce in a Tuesday morning meeting at the State Capitol.

Mike Hall, chief of staff to Gov. Jim Justice, thanked the subcommittee for its work and explained what was next for the task force. Now that the report is approved, it will be available for the public to view in the next few days at The report will go to the Cost & Revenue Subcommittee, which meets Aug. 23.

“You garnered from all those hearings and all the comments that certain things need to be fixed,” Hall said. “How I’d envision what would happen is you’d confirm – by the responses you got – what was said for the next group. Those people will look at the design of PEIA and determine what the public is talking about.”

The subcommittee held 21 public meetings across the state to hear concerns from public employees about their health insurance costs. Public employees could also express their opinions through a survey available on the PEIA Taskforce’s Facebook page.

During the last subcommittee meeting held Aug. 1, Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, expressed concerns over the small number of public employees who participated in the public hearings and survey responses.

In a reaction to Carmichael’s criticisms, more public employees filled out the online survey, which was still available on the taskforce’s Facebook page.

“After the last meeting there was conversation about the percentage of response,” Hall said. “A number of people got online. That took several days to go through.”

Hall said even with the additional survey responses, the concerns largely didn’t change. People expressed concerns over the increases in premiums and prescription costs. Solutions offered by the public include raising taxes on natural gas severance, alcohol, tobacco, and soda.

“An overwhelming number of people said you have to have a dedicated funding source,” said Dale Lee, president of the West Virginia Education Association.

The subcommittee made minor changes to the draft report, such as removing bulleted items and choosing to summarize those points.

The subcommittee had put a self-imposed deadline of Aug. 1 to complete their report. There was a disagreement between Carmichael and teachers’ union officials whether to offer specific recommendations of behalf of the committee. That disagreement appeared to be ironed out.

“Is our report also going to include recommendations,” Lee asked.

“Are you kidding me,” said Christine Campbell, president of the American Federation of Teachers’ West Virginia chapter, in jest.

Members of the subcommittee will be able to give recommendations as member of the full taskforce.

The PEIA Task Force was formed in March by Justice to find ways to fix the state employee health insurance program. It is expected that PEIA will need $50 million every year to keep up with the costs on health care. The taskforce will come up with a plan to fix PEIA in December.