CHARLESTON – With minimal discussion, the Senate today has adopted legislation making sweeping changes to insurance coverage for 230,000 PEIA plan participants. Senate Bill 268 will trigger a 26 percent increase in employee premiums for state participants; penalize public employees that are married; potentially lead to the exclusion of local police, firefighters and emergency services employees from PEIA; and create even more uncertainty regarding the status of retirees participating in PEIA.
The bill was passed in conjunction with a $2,300 across-the-board pay raise for some public employees that in all likelihood will be consumed by the increased new insurance costs.
“Without providing solid numbers or clear answers, the Senate is bundling a pay raise bill with what appears to be very painful insurance increases in the hopes that it will lesson the blow to public employees,” West Virginia AFL-CIO President Josh Sword said. “I have some very serious concerns that some of the lowest-paid and most vulnerable plan participants, including retirees, will indeed suffer greatly.”
Joe White, executive director of the West Virginia School Service Personnel Association, agreed.
“We do not feel that they were forthcoming in their answers to the actual costs to employees,” he said. “We do not want employees to be shocked by seeing large deductions from their paychecks. Our folks are like everyone else and they deserve to actually see a pay increase.”
Fred Albert, president of AFT-West Virginia, noted that even if the pay raise covered the immediate insurance cost increases, that doesn’t take into account the increases that are bound to come in future years.
“While we are appreciative of the $2,300 pay raise for teachers, service personnel and state employees, we are still concerned with how this is going to offset PEIA premium increases now and in the future,” he said.
Dale Lee, president of the West Virginia Education Association, pointed to the fact that the insurance cost increases are largely dependent on a forthcoming “actuarial” analysis of the plan.
“There are still many unanswered questions,” Lee said. “We don’t know how much the ‘actuarial value’ of the spouse coverage is. Our members need to know the financial impact this will have for them.”
Elaine Harris, international representative for CWA District 2-13, advocates for corrections workers, and state troopers, among other public employees, and is frustrated by the lack of information.
“Law enforcement and other public workers deserve better than half-truths and innuendos,” she said. “It’s past time for Senate leaders to be honest about the real impact of this legislation.”