PEIA Taskforce receives public outreach report

CHARLESTON — After several weeks of disagreements, a report detailing public opinion on the state’s public employees health insurance program was received by the committee tasked with fixing the program.

The Public Employees Insurance Agency Taskforce met Thursday at the Capitol in Charleston to receive the report. The Public Outreach Subcommittee met Aug. 7 to finalize the report.

The report is a summary of 21 public meetings held between May 1 and June 11 around the state where public employees came out to express their concerns with PEIA and a five-question survey conducted the meetings and online.

“The committee’s charge was to seek input members of the PEIA plan,” said Helen Matheny, who chairs the subcommittee. “I want to thank the members, the plan participants who came out and the retirees who came out. We appreciate hearing their concerns and issues, as well as suggested funding sources and other fixes.”

PEIA covers 233,000 participants, with 170,000 active employees and dependents. PEIA includes: 45,696 state employees; 74,256 teachers, service personnel and other county board of education employees; 27,200 non-state employees; and 22,848 higher education employees. There are 63,000 retirees and dependents covered by PEIA.

A total of 3,154 people took the survey, including 2,917 online respondents and 237 written responses. More than 1,500 people attended the public meetings, with more than 370 people speaking to the subcommittee.

“I think we tried to summarize the report the best that we could,” Matheny said. “In addition, I think there were some themes, if you will, that were similar across the meetings. I think we gathered good information.”

The survey questioned respondents about their top issues with PEIA, their ideas to fix the program, how to pay for any fix to PEIA, what kinds of healthy lifestyle programs they’d be willing to participate, and what incentives would motivate them to participate.

According to the survey, 45.5 percent of respondents said their top issue with PEIA was cost, even when divided into subcategories. Regarding how to fund PEIA, 47.8 percent said a tax would be best, and 44.9 percent said natural gas severance tax increases would be best. While the report said that responses were not favorable towards healthy lifestyle programs, 32.5 percent said they would participate if it would reduce the costs of their premiums.

Summarizing the public hearing comments, the report said concerns over the costs of premiums, deductibles, copays and prescriptions.

“In my opinion, the most important take away from the public hearings is the personal stories of the participants just trying to make ends meet while enduring the emotional and physical effects of personal or family illness, rising cost of healthcare, insufficient salaries and increasing expectations with decreasing resources,” stated a taskforce member who was unattributed in the report.

An issue affecting state employees on the borders included out-of-state versus in-state network restrictions. Respondents were concerned with no caps on the premiums for retiree health insurance and denied reimbursements. Attendees were overwhelmingly against including spousal income or additional job income for determining premiums. They said that state leaders should endorse an employee’s right to affordable health care.

A variety of funding sources were recommended by meeting attendees and survey respondents to fund PEIA, which is expected to see $50 million in additional costs every year. These ideas include increasing taxes on soda, tobacco, food, corporate, ATV ownership, beer/alcohol, timber, coal, corporate net income, businesses and franchises, and natural gas.

State employees also recommended using sports betting revenue, legalizing cannabis to tax the usage, raising taxes on out-of-state property owners, adding a per-pill fee for opioid prescriptions, and a “surcharge tax on high income people.”

“Regarding funding, the message was clear that continuous and sufficient funding, dedicated to improving instead of eroding the state’s healthcare plan, is vital to the future of our state,” the report said. “The message was also clear in that it’s the legislature’s responsibility to ensure quality, affordable healthcare for our active and retired state employees. Regardless of the revenue source, it was also clear that an increase in revenue is needed and should not fall on the backs of the citizens of West Virginia.”

The taskforce voted to accept the report. On Thursday, August 23, the Revenue and Cost Subcommittee will meet and will use this report as a guide when crafting their part of the taskforce’s action plan. The full taskforce is expected to issue recommendations in December.

“I’m hopeful that we can move forward quickly with our other subcommittees to find a resolution,” Matheny said.

The report is available at PEIATaskforce.wv.gov.

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