CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The Public Employees Insurance Agency (PEIA) Task Force’s Public Outreach Subcommittee will have a completed report Aug. 7 that summarizes results from the statewide hearings held earlier this year.
After much discussion, members of the subcommittee concluded that the main themes from the public hearings, which wrapped up in June, were affordability — including premiums, co-pays and deductibles — accessibility and predictability.
“In the grand scope of the whole PEIA Task Force, we’re step one. We’ve heard from the 1,500 people that attended these meetings and the 840-some that filled out the surveys,” Sen. Mitch Carmichael (R-Jackson) said. “This is the basis upon which we are fixing PEIA, plus the context that we heard in Walmarts, grocery stores and other places.”
At those numbers, Carmichael said the findings are only representative of 1 percent of the 233,000 individuals covered by PEIA.
“Less than one-half percent completed the survey, and less than one-quarter of one percent spoke at the meetings,” he said. “So we’re making decisions and proposing plans based on a very small sample size, very small. If you polled the State Senate, less than 1 percent would be one senator. Would you make your decision based on that?”
West Virginia Education Association President Dale Lee said that’s an extremely unfair analysis.
“I don’t think it’s a fair analysis of comparing it to the Senate because the Senate has, I mean, you have to call a meeting and that’s your job,” Lee said. “It wasn’t the public’s job to come out. I mean, you look at the 233,000 total participants, there’s a large number of those that are kids and things like that, so that’s not an accurate reflection of the public.”
McDowell County Schools Superintendent Nelson Spencer added that he knows of many more beyond that 1 percent that share in that same opinion.
“I agree it’s a small sample size, but there were people that came to me that I saw on the street or in the store or at a school that had comments, so you’re not adding all of those in that either,” Spencer said. “I don’t know that we were looking for numbers, we hoping for comments everywhere we went.”
Spencer said the difficult part is now up to them, summarizing those comments and concerns into a report with recommendations to be made to the full PEIA Task Force.
“The difficult part is putting it in words and on paper to where we all agree this is the way it needs to be and simple for everyone to understand because if you go writing down every comment, which I do have, but if we wrote in notes, that wouldn’t be very user-friendly or actually useful, I don’t think,” he said.
What each member of the Public Outreach Subcommittee does agree on is that cost was the overall number one concern.
“Overwhelming we heard about cost. It’s too expensive,” Carmichael said. “So how do you fix it? What was the recommendation? Taxes, right? A funding source. We need a funding source, so we summarize it like that. Of those respondents, what was the primary tax that they wanted to put on?”
“Natural gas severance,” the other board members responded.
“Right, so we know what the answer is,” Carmichael said.
Once the Public Outreach Subcommittee submits their report to the full PEIA Task Force on Aug. 7, the Coverage & Plan Subcommittee and the Cost & Revenue Subcommittee will later do the same.
“As a Task Force member, we all have an opportunity to say, ‘These are our recommendations to the Finance Board so they can put a plan together based on that,” said Christine Campbell, president of the American Federation of Teachers West Virginia. “But as Tenna says repeatedly, I’ll create any plan you want me to create, but I’ve got to have the money.”
Lee said Aug. 7 will not be tied down to a specific one-hour subcommittee meeting.
“I think Aug. 7 should be our drop dead date that we come up with the final decision,” he said. “If we have to have a work session or a planning meeting on that day to finish everything, we take as long as we need that day to finalize our report because we need the opportunity for the people, for the public to see what we’re coming out with and just extending, extending and extending it is not the right thing to do.”