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Unstable

PEIA’s longterm health still shaky

Give West Virginia Education Association President Dale Lee credit for reminding state officials that the Public Employees Insurance Agency’s long-term health remains shaky.

“I’m looking down the road. I’m looking for the future,” Lee told PEIA Finance Board members last week.

His comments came as PEIA officials announced plans for next year that should please WVEA members and other state employees. There will be no cuts in PEIA benefits, nor will enrollees have to pay more for their health insurance, officials said.

That is good news, but PEIA officials can offer it only for now. The agency’s challenges in balancing revenue with benefits, debated for years, have not gone away. Health care costs continue to increase steadily.

During the work stoppages by members of the WVEA and other public school unions two years ago, ensuring the PEIA’s solvency without benefit cuts or premium increases was a major demand. “Fix the PEIA” signs were displayed by the hundreds.

That prompted Gov. Jim Justice to form a task force charged with exploring strategies for the PEIA. In the end, the governor and legislators did no more than they have for many years: They pumped more taxpayers’ money into the agency. It already enjoyed lavish taxpayer support, with the state covering about 80% of costs, while premiums paid only about 20%.

Lawmakers established a special “rainy day” fund for the PEIA, providing it with $100 million intended to boost subsidies to the agency, if needed to avoid benefit cuts or premium increases.

PEIA officials say they may have to withdraw $34 million from that fund next year.

In other words, the PEIA is not fixed.

Last week, Lee encouraged officials to “continue to look at long-term stability for PEIA.” He is right about the need to explore that now, while the agency is not in need of a cash transfusion. Decisions made during a fiscal crisis period seldom serve anyone involved well.