At the beginning of the first PEIA Public Hearing in Charleston tonight (Mar. 27), the Secretary of the PEIA Finance Board announced the Blended Options are now off the table for those under the state plan. (This included state and county employees - teachers and service personnel are under this plan.)
That means there will be the higher premium increase, but there will be no increases in deductibles, copays on prescriptions, copays on office visits, no increase in the maximum out-of-pocket expenses for the year, and no increases on any other medical expenses that had been proposed under the two blended options.
While the premium increase will be painful, and the spouse payment will continue, the costs passed on to employees could have been much worse if either of the blended option plans had passed.
Jo Frost and John Quesenberry from RCEA spoke on behalf of our members, colleagues, and especially our retirees in the county and throughout the state and WVEA President Dale Lee also spoke. Dale was the only representative of any teacher or service personnel organization to speak at the Finance Board meeting last week where the plans were first passed for consideration.
Both Lee and Quesenberry inquired if the blended options will be off the table for retirees and urged the PEIA Board to include them in that decision. Retirees will pay no premium increases this year, but under the blended plans, they would have many new charges in copays and prescriptions. "At a time when they are at their most vulnerable both health wise and financially, our seniors and retirees are at the greatest risk for healthcare increases," stated Quesenberry. "Increased costs could lead to healthcare rationing - by the patients themselves. Those struggling financially may be tempted to wait out health problems hoping they go away, ignore them, or wait to seek treatment until it biomes too late. Living on fixed incomes based on a fraction of their salaries from years ago makes our retirees especially vulnerable," he continued.
Jo Frost did an eloquent job at expressing the frustrations of teachers and service personnel are feeling at the increases after we had been promised no increases for the upcoming year. Frost voiced frustration in transparency and a lack of any public hearings in the southern part of the state. She highlighted the damage the premium increases will do in trying to recruit new teachers and keep the employees we have in schools now. She painted a vivid picture of what employees and their families are facing and the challenges they are having to deal with while feeling they have little voice in the decisions that affect their lives.
Dale Lee had already spoken at the Finance Board meeting last Thursday warning of the harm to retirees with increases in prescription costs under the two blended plan options. Tonight he shared the costs retirees could face and suggested the Legislature use part of the $74 million in the state rainy day fund to offset an increases in copays or prescriptions for retirees if one of the blended options is adopted for retirees. (The budget will not be finalized by the Legislature until May 1, so that option would still be on the table according to the PEIA Secretary.)
Lee also stressed those under PEIA make sure to fill out the affidavit all married members will receive when the enrollment period starts for the upcoming year. If you do not return the affidavit stating your spouse does not have insurance available by their employer or they wish to be taken off the policy, then your spouse will remain on for next year and you will be charged for their costs.
The Secretary of the PEIA Finance Board will be researching to see whether retirees will also have the blended options eliminated from consideration. RCEA will keep all our members and our retirees updated as information is provided by the PEIA Board.
There were around 60 people attending and between 15 and 20 speakers. In addition to Dale Lee, Joe White from the WV Service Personnel Association and Fred Albert of WV AFT spoke, as did a state senator defending Senate Bill 268 (Sen. Amy Grady) and a state delegate (Del. Mike Pushkin) attacking it. SB 268 is the law that directed the increase in premiums to pay for the costs incurred by PEIA. There were a total of four members of the 134 member Legislature mentioned as being in attendance. Various employee union leaders and retirees spoke as did several members of the public.
RCEA strongly opposed the bill. RCEA's view is the bill shifts the burden of costs to employees and that it takes back much of the pay raise passed this year. RCEA did support the part of the bill that guarantees reimbursement to healthcare providers at 110% of Medicare. Hospitals in Wheeling were threatening to no longer accept PEIA and there was the likelihood of other hospitals following suit.
Thank you for all the input and suggestions shared with colleagues and RCEA representatives. We did our best to listen to what you have told us and voice that to those whose decisions will affect us all.