Photo caption: Several Kanawha County employees attended the Public Employees Insurance Agency’s public hearing at the Culture Center in Charleston, W.Va. on Monday, Nov. 13, 2023. Kanawha County manager Jennifer Herrald said the proposed 13% rate hike for non state agencies puts an unjust burden on county employees and first responders. (Lori Kersey | West Virginia Watch)
BY: LORI KERSEY – NOVEMBER 14, 2023 6:00 AM
During a public hearing in Charleston Monday evening, more than a dozen people spoke against proposed health insurance premiums hikes for state and local government workers.
About 50 people attended the Public Employees Insurance Agency’s public hearing at the Culture Center.
PEIA is proposing to increase premiums for state employees by 10.5% for fiscal year 2025, which runs from July 2024 through June 2025. Employees of non-state agencies would see a premium increase of 13% and the addition of a $147 per month surcharge for certain employee spouses.
In addition, PEIA is proposing a 10% premium increase and no change in benefits for non-Medicare retirees. Medicare retirees would not see a change to premiums or benefits.
Kanawha County Manager Jennifer Herrald said the proposed increase for non-state employees would be an unjust financial burden for county employees and first responders. She said the increase is basically a tax for first responders.
“County employees are experiencing larger increases in premiums than their state counterparts,” Herrald said. “While state employees have received substantial pay raises to mitigate the heightened costs and spousal surcharge, local governmental entities face budgetary constraints in offering similar pay raises or absorbing the escalating financial burdens imposed by the rising health care insurance.”
The proposed hikes come after the state Legislature earlier this year approved Senate Bill 268, which raised health premiums about 25% back to an 80/20 employees premium split, among other things. State employees got a pay increase meant to offset the premium increase.
Gov. Jim Justice has said he intends to propose another 5% employee pay increase in 2024 to offset the cost of the PEIA increase.
Fred Albert, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said teacher vacancies in the state are trending upwards, from 1,544 last year to 1705 this year. Those vacancies are filled, in cost cases, with retired teachers teaching outside their certification, he said.
“That’s a major injustice to our students,” he said. “Every student in the state of West Virginia deserves a certified, highly qualified teacher in that classroom.”
If the state were paying teachers what they should be earning, it wouldn’t have that shortage, Albert said.
Monica Mason, executive director of the Kanawha County Emergency Ambulance Authority, said the proposed premium increase would make it difficult for her agency to recruit and retain workers.
“In the area of health care, many medical practices and other private providers are paying rich benefits to attract EMTs and paramedics to their agencies,” Mason said. “By inserting PEIA in our employee decisions, you will negatively impact our ability to retain and recruit personnel.”
Dr. Steven Eshenaur, executive director and health officer of the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department, said the proposed increases are “unsustainable” for local health departments across the state.
“When we look at the projected cost for health insurance for employees, especially those employees that are paid very nominally on a payscale especially in the health care world, the health care industry today, we cannot sustain these types of raises and keep a balanced budget,” he said. “We strongly encourage this board to look very deeply at how to reduce costs so we can reduce premium increases in the future.”
Monday’s meeting was one of a handful the PEIA board is holding across the state about proposed rate hikes for fiscal year 2025. The hearings continue in Bluefield Tuesday night and conclude with a virtual public hearing on Thursday, Nov. 16.
** West Virginia Watch is a nonprofit media source. Articles are shared under creative commons license. Please visit https://westvirginiawatch.com/ for more independent Mountain State news coverage.