CHARLESTON, WV (WOWK)- Teachers and public employees packed into the University of Charleston for the first of three public PEIA hearings. PEIA is the state insurance plan that teachers and others want to see fixed.
Governor Jim Justice is requesting $29-million in general revenue to go towards the insurance plan. PEIA investments also did well, netting an extra $20-million, so with the extra money the PEIA board is proposing a new plan.
A rowdy crowd of teachers and other public workers are demanding a long-term fix for the state insurance plan. Teachers say rising insurance costs have left some of the most vulnerable West Virginians to suffer. Many at the hearing spoke about April, a Boone County teacher diagnosed with breast cancer.
“She sat outside that drug store crying in her car because she couldn’t pay for it [medication]. That’s not a fantasy. I remember talking to her on the phone and the treat of the night was to have roman noodles,” Carrena Rouse told 13 News. Rouse is a teacher at Scott High School and the president of the local Boone County AFT-WV union.
“They’ve got to get some resolve. They’ve got to make sure they’re taking care of West Virginians,” Rouse said of state lawmakers.
The newest PEIA proposal would freeze premiums and coverage for the next two years.
“We are just under a billion-dollar plan. Medical inflation runs between 5-7%, if you do the math that means every year we need an extra $50,60,70-million to keep the plan as it is,” PEIA’s Executive Director Ted Cheatham told 13 News.
This year good investments and money from the statehouse offered an extra $49-million. But the PEIA board said they would need that much money every year to keep costs down.
“I don’t know what it’s going to be like next year. We’re having a good year this year, of course investments just started to go down, but potentially,” Cheatham added.
So lawmakers are proposing a natural gas tax, soda tax, even food tax that would bring in around $50-million each year.
The PEIA Board will hold two more public hearings before they vote February 20th.