On Sunday I sat in as an observer during the Select Committee on PEIA, Seniors and Long Term Care, one of three days worth of interim work sessions held at the capitol.
Not having been a state employee, this is new territory for me but I brought my friend Betty, a retired schoolteacher, so she could help me better understand the issues on our drive to and from Charleston. I took copious notes in my tiny composition book as Ted Cheatham, Director of WV's Public Employees Insurance Agency, reported on recent public meetings and presented options for insurance plans to fit within the budget set by the Legislature.
Among the cost-cutting options presented for our state's nearly quarter-of-a-million enrolled women, men and children were: raising deductibles, raising out of pocket costs, changing prescription plans, reducing the 80% share paid by the state, and so on. The director at one point suggested that employees with kids could save by enrolling their children in the federal CHIP program (which as of now has not been funded by Congress for 2018).
Toward the end of the meeting, Del. Rick Moye (D-Raleigh) began asking questions that helped me make sense out of the whole PEIA issue. Mr. Cheatham confirmed that the Legislature only funded half of the $20 million proposed last session, and PEIA needed to make up this $10 million deficit by continuing to hold employees accountable for the costs.
If I got it down correctly here's the bottom line: Over the last two years, an estimated $70 million in costs has been shifted onto the backs of PEIA recipients and their families. The delegate asked how long it has been since these state employees got a raise, and while a definite answer eluded the director, he said he remembered a single one-time $500 annual raise in the last ten years. Someone else in the room said it had been 12 years since our lowest-paid state employees got a raise.
After the meeting, a local activist live-posted a few follow-up interviews with members of the Select Committee asking about revenue solutions to provide relief to state employees and their families —specifically, restoring the corporate net income tax and business franchise tax to their pre-2007 levels. The general consensus among the GOP members is that there is "no sentiment in this Legislature" to raise any taxes on corporations (although they're still waiting for the "uptick" in well-paying private industry jobs).
Apparently, the rules also disallow any negotiation between the state and the pharmaceutical industry on lowering prescription costs for this large pool of customers. I suppose that's been off the table for decades now.
What am I missing here?
Raising our voices
Issues, insights and day-to-day adventures along the campaign trail