CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A final plan for Public Employees Insurance Agency coverage for the coming year backed off some earlier, controversial recommendations, but advocates for public employees said they remain worried about the likelihood of benefits reductions in years ahead.

The PEIA Finance Board voted Thursday afternoon on a final plan for the coming year. The proposal changed from an initial recommendation after three public hearings around the state, plus a telephonic public hearing.

“We listened to comments, people talked to us, all the board members were very involved,” said PEIA Director Ted Cheatham.

The final plan does away with a proposed 2 percent rate increase that would have hit non-state employees and retirees.

MORE: See the Board Presentation

It also tweaks an earlier recommendation to move from 10 to 3 salary tiers for state employees. The revision moves to 5. “They’re evenly spread,” Cheatham said.

“What I would say is we have adjusted these tiers so if you are a one-income household you will not be any worse off than you are today,” Cheatham said. “The people affected are the people who are covering a spouse that has additional family income that are moving up in the tier.”

The final plan also backed off a pay-by-person structure.

“I think we all agreed the pay-by-the-person was a little bit too much on the impact of a lot of people. We’re going to recommend we do not do pay-by-the-person.”

Several advocates for public employees praised the board for moving off the earlier recommendations, but they all pleaded with Finance Board members to push for a way to avoid additional cuts or increased expenses for PEIA recipients in coming years.

West Virginia Education Association President Dale Lee said there are 727 vacancies in school systems across the state. He said West Virginia is having trouble competing with surrounding states, both with salary and now with benefits.

“If you look at the outlying years we’re going to have major problems. If we don’t come up with a solution, a funding source, that will really offset this, we’ll all have major major problems. You can’t expect to come up with funding on the backs of employees,” Lee said.

He expressed continued concern about the salary tiers.

“While I do appreciate several of the changes you made to this plan,” he said, singling out the decision to forego a 2 percent rate increase, “I still have concerns even going to the 5 tiers about the winners and losers. It does help that two employees can go with single plan.

“But another question I would have when you’re calculating total family income, if I’m still active and my spouse is retired, I’m assuming you’ll  calculate the total family income on the retirement or Social Security. So again you’re creating the winners and losers. If both spouses are working, the second spouse has the opportunity to go with the plan they have. With this one you don’t.”

Christine Campbell, president of the American Federation of Teachers-West Virginia, also thanked the Finance Board for being willing to consider changes. She, too, pushed to avoid lessened benefits in coming years and asked for help from board members.

“We’ve got to start looking at the big picture and focusing on what we’re going to do to increase or sustain revenue for this important plan,” Campbell said.

“We have to talk to the governor, the Senate President, the Speaker of the House and say what are we going to do long-term?” she asked. “We’re willing to sit down and look at all the options and do our due diligence to push for a more sustainable revenue stream, but we need you to do the same thing.”

Ernest “Spud” Terry, who works on behalf of retired state employees, also asked for relief in coming years.

“We need to stop the bleeding on the erosion,” Terry said. “In reality, a lot of our folks also want to stop the bleeding. But in our cases, a lot of times the bleeding is real blood.

“If we could, consider the plight of our people and their real needs and less on the needs of organizations and capital expenditures in all those things aren’t nearly as important as my friends and peers who are suffering. Maybe we can make even more progress in years to come because it looks bad for us in years to come.”

The PEIA Finance Board includes Lee Diznoff, Jason Myers, Amanda Meadows, Jared Robertson, Ray Whiting, Bill Milam, Michael T. Smith and Geoff Christian. The chairman is John Myers, state Secretary of Administration.

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