Agency votes to cut $120M to workers’ health plans


CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — Members of West Virginia’s Public Employees Insurance Agency Finance Board have voted to approve $120 million in cuts to workers’ health plans.

The Charleston Gazette-Mail reports the cuts are slated to affect more than 200,000 public employees and retirees.

Board members voted on the cuts Thursday because they say there has been no additional state funding to offset rising health care costs. PEIA said it has exhausted its reserve fund in recent years.

“This is going to be very devastating,” board member Elaine Harris said. “People are going to have to make choices, and those choices are not good choices.”

Members are now asking lawmakers to fully fund the program during the upcoming legislative session. The board said it will scrap all proposed cuts for public employees and retirees if legislators allocate the $120 million needed to keep workers’ benefits the same.

“The board is sending a clear message to the Legislature,” said board member Josh Sword. “If you — legislative leadership — make funding PEIA a priority, then this is the difference you can make. If you choose not to, then we’re looking at draconian benefit reductions.”

The board also is urging lawmakers to raised the state’s tobacco tax to raise an additional $112 million per year to help offset the PEIA cuts. State Senate President Bill Cole, R-Mercer, said last month that he opposes tax increases to fund state employees’ PEIA coverage.

House Speaker Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha, issued a statement Friday that discussions are ongoing between House and Senate leaders, the governor’s office and PEIA representatives.

“Our hope is to have meaningful proposals ready to introduce in the coming legislative session.”

Under the PEIA plan, deductibles state and public school employees, who comprise the majority of PEIA enrollees, would increase by $500 for single coverage and $1,000 for family coverage. Annual out-of-pocket maximums would increase by $1,500 for single coverage and $3,000 for families.

Retirees would see an 8 percent increase in premiums.

The proposed benefit cuts would begin July 1, 2017, for active employees and Jan. 1, 2017, for retirees.

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