PEIA board tries to bring ‘certainty’ to budget impasse

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The state PEIA Finance Board voted Wednesday afternoon to re-approve $120 million in benefit reductions for next fiscal year for the state workers’ health insurance plan.

The board also approved a plan that would soften the changes by using $43.5 million in new cash proposed by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin. The status of that proposal remains up in the air as the impasse between the governor and legislature continues over the next state budget.

The finance board did the right thing by meeting in emergency session Wednesday, board chair Mary Jane Pickens said.

“It may not be exactly the certainty that the members would like to see at this stage but to continue down the path not knowing what the legislature will do regarding the budget is really more uncertainty that we have today,” she said.

Leading lawmakers have promised PEIA will be fully funded, if not, state workers face a number of changes in their health care plans, PEIA Director Ted Cheatham said.

“They are going to see their deductibles go up significantly, their out of pockets go up. They are also going to see the preferred drug price (go up) as well as the deductible for the drugs and the out-of-pocket is going to go up for the drugs as well,” he said.

The governor was hopeful that a plan could be reached soon, perhaps even as early as by the end of the week.

“I feel very confident that by the end of the day, not today, but the next few days that we should have some sort of an agreement,” Tomblin said.

PEIA’s open enrollment for next plan year begins Saturday and Cheatham said some kind of plan has to be in place. He did say most state workers use Plan A and are automatically re-enrolled.

Pickens, who is the acting Secretary of Administration in the Tomblin administration, is hopeful the legislature will at least approve the governor’s funding plan.

“My hope would it would that it at least be the $43.5 million the governor proposed initially. If it’s less than that—–it would be a wonderful day if it’s more than that,” Pickens said.

Tomblin did not want to see large cuts to state programs, pointing out how many people depend on them. He was hoping to see a compromise among lawmakers between tax raises and cuts.

“I would hope that we could come (to an agreement), even with a combination of some cuts as well as some revenue enhancements for the state. So many people depend on these services, including our education system.”

The finance board originally approved the $120 million in reductions back in December after several years of spending down the agency’s trust fund with no new funding. The board changed its mind after the governor’s plan for a cigarette tax increase and the proposed $43.5 million fix but that wasn’t approved by lawmakers. Proposed state budgets from the House of Delegates and state Senate did fully fund PEIA. The Senate did so with a $1.00 increase in the cigarette tax; the House by sweeping accounts along with money from the Rainy Day Fund. The legislature has yet to approve a budget for next fiscal year.

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