CHARLESTON – Left with no other recourse, the Public Employees Insurance Agency Finance Board has adopted two plan proposals, one being a worst-case-scenario that assumes the Legislature fails to properly fund the program and enacts $120 million in benefit reductions.
“Unfortunately for the 233,000 PEIA plan participants, political gamesmanship within the Republican-led Legislature has taken precedence over responsible governing,” said WV AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Josh Sword, who is a member of the PEIA Finance Board. “We’ve heard over and over again from the legislative leadership that they had a plan to address this crisis, but here we are on the eve of open enrollment for the next PEIA plan year, weeks after the end of the legislative session, and there is no compromise, no agreement and no solution.”
Elaine Harris, the state's international representative for the Communications Workers of America and a vice president with the West Virginia AFL-CIO who also sits on the PEIA Finance Board, noted that PEIA’s budget has remained unchanged for the past five years, despite the fact that more than 3,600 more new employees have been added to the program while medical and drug costs are increasing by an average of 6 percent per year. Last year the PEIA board cut over $40 million in benefits. The agency has had to spend down its reserve fund, which is now depleted.
“This is a problem legislators have known about for months. The Republican leadership has not provided a concrete plan for how to deal with it, while at the same time rejecting several proposals by members of the minority party and Governor Tomblin to raise sufficient revenue,” Harris said. “These cuts will be devastating to our public employees, but absent any action by the Legislature, we will have no choice but to move forward with them.”
Fred Albert, a teacher for the past 25 years and local president of AFT-Kanawha, has said the benefit cuts and out-of-pocket increases amount to a pay cut for public employees and retirees, who are going to be saddled with thousands in higher premiums, deductibles, copays and prescriptions costs.
“I’m tired of this being used as a political football,” Albert said. “This could have been resolved, and should have been resolved, during the regular session, but it was not.”
The alternative plan, similar to the one the board approved in January, includes less drastic benefit reductions but assumes a $43.5 million in additional general revenue funds, which Governor Tomblin has worked into his proposed budget by raising the tobacco tax. The governor continues to press legislative leaders to adopt a fiscally sound budget.
“The Republican legislative leaders talk a good game about finding a solution. Now it’s time for them to act, and fully fund PEIA,” Sword said.