SPRING MILLS, W.Va. — Teachers, administrators and school personnel addressed the PEIA Task Force during a public hearing in the Eastern Panhandle.

The tour aims to give state workers a chance to discuss issues — and possible solutions — with the Public Employees Insurance Agency.

This was the 24th public hearing, which has had stops all over the state. The public hearings kicked off in April.

Among the Task Force members who were there to listen were Senate President Mitch Carmichael, Joe White of the West Virginia School Service Personnel Association and who heads up human resources for Berkeley County Schools.

Mitch Carmichael

Carmichael, who has been at about 10 of the earlier meetings, acknowledged many have issue with the agency’s customer service. Public employees who live in border counties also have often expressed  desire to use out-of-state providers.

“Many of the people have expressed difficulty navigating through the system and then they want to be able to utilize out of state providers for coverage, particularly in this area,” said Carmichael, R-Jackson. “So, we are looking at all those aspects.”

Melody Catlett is a special education aide at Martinsburg North Middle School. She attended the meeting to ask why PEIA has to be the only health care option for West Virginian school employees.

PEIA, as a state agency, manages the contracts of insurance providers. So it is semi-private already while also being subsidized by tax dollars.

“I think maybe if they were to get some competition in the insurance realm, maybe PEIA would be willing to step up to the plate and offer better insurance coverage,” said Catlett.

Wendy Bird, President of the Berkeley County Education Association, urged the task force to stabilize healthcare prices.

“The important thing is finding a solution, a long term funding source, so that we can keep teachers here and also hire teachers that are professional trained and are professional educators,” said Bird.

The public outreach subcommittee will relay feedback received to the larger task force, which Gov. Jim Justice established to find a long-term solution to the issues facing PEIA.

The task force will hold its final meeting Monday in Charleston at the State Culture Center.

Elias McMillan reported this story.

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