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PEIA changes bemoaned at hearing

Chris Dorst
Kathie and Patrick Lamb look over the Public Employees Insurance Agency plan booklet during a hearing at the Charleston Civic Center on Tuesday night. Patrick Lamb is retired from the state Solid Waste Management Board.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Leaders of several state employee and retiree groups with health coverage through the Public Employees Insurance Agency said at a hearing Tuesday night that their members can't afford the changes proposed to the agency's 2013-14 financial plan.

Even though premiums wouldn't increase under the plan, the cost of deductibles and out-of-pocket expenses could go up for some state and public school workers.

Ted Cheatham, PEIA's executive director, and members of the agency's Finance Board held a public hearing on the changes Tuesday night at the Charleston Civic Center.

Proposed benefit changes to the agency's most popular plan, such as increasing co-pays for specialist physicians from $25 to $40 per visit, would increase revenue by $3 million, Cheatham said.

Judy Hale, president of the American Federation of Teachers state chapter, said co-pay increases are more like pay cuts for teachers, who are working without an income raise.

"The people who are most in need and who are the sickest are hurt most every year," Hale said.

Hale criticized the board for scheduling the hearing so close to Thanksgiving when many teachers are away on downtime. She said the agency's changes are partly responsible for the lack of state educators, especially science teachers.

"If people cannot afford health care then they cannot afford retirement," she said.

John Riddle, president of the West Virginia Association of Retired School Employees, said he echoed Hale's opinions. His association has about 7,000 members representing all state school system systems, he said.

"You are not making the career attractive enough," Riddle said. "A nurse can make a lot more money at CAMC [Hospital] than she can as a school nurse."

Diabetes suffers are completely neglected in the proposed plan, Nelson Fowler, president of West Virginia Public Employees Retirement System Association, said.

"Me and my wife got a good discount for our diabetes medication and then one day it just stopped," Fowler said.

The proposed plan discontinues waiving co-payment for non-preferred diabetes medications.

Cheatham said the hearing was recorded and would be reviewed for future use.

The Finance Board will vote on next year's plan on Dec. 6, and the changes will take effect July 1.

Also during the hearing, Cheatham said PEIA would update its records relating to tobacco use of its members.

Beginning April 2013, every member would be switched to a tobacco user on PEIA's records. Non-smoking members would then fill out information to change that in the system. Cheatham said the process gives PEIA a more accurate look at its smoking members.

The Finance Board is chaired by Ross Taylor and has eight members: James W. Dailey II, Troy Giatras, Elaine Harris, William Ihlenfeld, Bill Milam, John R. Ruddick, Michael T. Smith and Joshua Sword.

Reach Travis Crum at travis.crum@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5163.


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