MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — One of the state’s congressional candidates is also a PEIA recipient, and she has a lot to say on the future of the much-maligned health care program.

Kendra Fershee

Kendra Fershee, a professor in WVU’s College of Law and the Democratic candidate in West Virginia’s 1st Congressional District, says she pays for her health care treatment in seven different ways.

“We pay for health insurance or health, in theory, multiple ways,” Fershee said last week on WAJR’s Morgantown AM. “We pay premiums, we pay co-pays, we pay deductibles, and then my employer also pays part of all of those. I pay for prescriptions. I pay for Medicaid and Medicare. We’re all paying into a system that is very, very expensive, and we’re not getting good care. Our health isn’t benefiting from it. I want efficiency in the system.”

Fershee certainly isn’t the first to express issues with the insurance program. It was a large component of the nine-day work stoppage of teachers and service personnel that ended in early March.

Now Fershee is expressing concerns about Gov. Jim Justice’s recently proposed solution to PEIA.

During the state Department of Education’s Summit for Educational Excellence in Morgantown, Gov. Justice gave an address in which he suggested spouses of West Virginia educators making more than $150,000 go off of PEIA and pay for their own insurance.

“My concern is that it’s a really small number of people,” Fershee said. “It seems strange to me because I would think that the group of people that would be kicked off PEIA would be pretty small.”

While she doesn’t believe a simple solution for PEIA’s future exists, what Fershee has been advocating for is universal health care.

“We talk so much about insurance that we’re not talking about health, and what I would like to do is have a system that incentivizes health instead of paying insurance companies’ huge administrative costs and wastes in that system,” she said.

Fershee said she recently had a conversation with her physical therapist on the topic, who said he could go into a fourth grade classroom to teach kids how to properly stand and thus help them avoid years of future back, spine and knee problems.

“We don’t really know how to be healthy because our incentives are all wrong,” she said. “I said, ‘Well, why can’t you go into those fourth grade classrooms,’ and he said, ‘I’m not allowed to because that’s treating kids’ health in a way that our insurance structure doesn’t allow and our medical structure doesn’t allow.’”

It’s about “simple fixes,” Fershee said, providing preventive and proactive care, education and treating people when care is needed.

“Regardless of where they work, their age, how much money they make,” she said. “What I really think we need to get to in the United States is a system where the people who are most in need of our health care get the health care because right now we’re seeing the effects of people who don’t have health care.”

Unfortunately, however, Fershee also knows it isn’t an overnight fix, as health insurance and health care as a whole is a massive industry, particularly in West Virginia.

“But I think we need to be moving in the direction of universal health care and there are incremental ways we can move in from children and seniors are covered,” she said. “We can keep moving in toward the center so people get covered more and more each and every year. That can be done legislatively, and it needs to be done in Congress.”

And for those asking how it would be paid for, “we already are,” Fershee said.

“If somebody goes to the emergency room with a severe medical need, or even maybe not a severe medical need, we treat them and then the government pays for it, and that’s expensive because the emergency room sets the cost,” she said.

“In the system, nobody really understands how it works. If I want an MRI, I can’t call around and say, ‘How much does it cost there? I’d like a price comparison.’ They don’t know. ‘Oh, I don’t know what you’re insurance is.’ It’s a crazy system, so I’d really like to get to a system where we’re really focusing on people’s health and not so much focusing on people’s health.”

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