For years West Virginia school teachers and public employees tacitly approved of the bargain; the pay wasn’t great, but the benefits were pretty good.
However, it’s evident from school meetings and rallies over the last several weeks that teachers and public employees believe that deal isn’t as good as it used to be. Pay has stagnated, while health benefits have become more expensive.
PEIA is still a heck of a deal when compared with private sector plans, but employees cannot help but to notice an erosion of the grand bargain of the past.
Governor Justice and Legislative leaders got the message and are now encouraging the PEIA board to roll back the unpopular changes planned for next fiscal year. If the board follows the recommendation, and it will, PEIA benefits, premiums, deductibles and out-of-pocket costs will be the same next fiscal year as they are now.
Now, health care costs will go up next year because, well, they always go up. However, Justice promises that he will find the money necessary to cover the increased costs without putting any additional burden on teachers and state workers.
Thousands of employees who were going to be hit with higher premiums because of the PEIA board’s decision to consider total family income now won’t have to face that.
This step should allay the heartburn public employees have about their PEIA, at least for now. One interesting side note, however, is that public employees on the lowest end of the pay scale, who were going to have a better deal under the new system, will now lose that break.
Providing health insurance for tens of thousands of state workers, teachers and their families is an expensive undertaking. PEIA pays out over one-half billion a year in claims.
Those costs go up with medical inflation and as people take more medications. West Virginia also has an older, sicker population which adds to the cost.
The good insurance that West Virginia employees have come to expect—and in some cases demand, if their pay doesn’t go up—gets more expensive all the time.
The grand bargain is going to change. West Virginia doesn’t have many good options; put more taxpayer dollars into the system, increase employee costs, reduce benefits, or some combination of the three.
That apparently will not happen next fiscal year, which gives employees and policy makers some relief. However, that’s a temporary reprieve to the apparent inevitability of increasingly expensive health care, which somebody has to pay for.