PEIA ‘fix’

Real solutions needed for program

“Fix the PEIA,” demanded thousands of West Virginia public school employees who stayed off work for nearly two weeks earlier this year.

Well, it seems the Public Employees Insurance Agency indeed is “fixed” — for now.

Tens of thousands of active and retired public employees and their families rely on the PEIA for health insurance. Spiraling health care costs for several years have made it difficult for PEIA officials to make ends meet. They have resorted to premium increases and benefit limits.

But in August, PEIA Director Ted Cheatham reported the program had a $31 million surplus for the fiscal year that ended June 30. Another $70 million surplus is expected for the current year. That could mean it will be two years before the PEIA has to ask legislators for more taxpayers’ money in addition to the $400 million to $500 million a year it already gets.

There was more good news last week. Revenue has been flowing into state coffers during the past three months at a much greater rate than had been expected. That prompted Gov. Jim Justice to announce he will ask legislators to add $100 million to the normal PEIA appropriation next year.

Fifty million dollars a year seems to be the magic number for the PEIA. For several months, a task force created by Justice has been debating how to “fix” the program to the point premium increases and benefit cuts are not needed. An additional $50 million a year would do it, it has been said.

At that rate, the $100 million PEIA surplus plus the $100 million Justice wants could — emphasis on could — keep the program on an even keel for four years.

But health care costs will continue increasing. State revenue may not remain at the current high rates.

The PEIA is only repaired temporarily. A permanent “fix” will require more action by the governor, legislators and PEIA officials.

Justice’s task force has been a disappointment. The extent of its activity seems to have been to tell lawmakers they need to come up with an additional $50 million a year for the PEIA. Ways to reduce the program’s costs seem to have been an afterthought, if even that.

Meanwhile, the governor seems to have something more decisive in mind. He has even suggested privatizing the program might be a possibility.

Justice is right. Real solutions for the PEIA need to be found. Until that happens, there has been no “fix.”

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