BECKLEY, W.Va. — Concerned state employees from across southern West Virginia filled the Tamarack Conference Center Wednesday evening.
The main topic from those who took to the podium in Beckley was the proposed 17-month freeze of last year’s insurance plan. Before taking public comments, PEIA Director Ted Cheatham took time to review the revised plans for 2019.
The new proposal suggests no premium increases, no benefit changes and keeping plans at the 2018 benefit levels. Cheatham explained it would also reduce telehealth copay to $30 per visit. Despite this, many are concerned insurance premiums and deductibles could go back once these changes come to an end.
Retired Woodrow Wilson High School Principal Ron Cantley was among the first to speak. He said while he understands the hardships and limits PEIA faces, it’s going to be a challenge for state employees. He also added he senses an overall lack of respect.
“I feel like there’s many people that feel like instead of being part of the solution, we’re part of the problem in West Virginia. I don’t get that. There’s got to be a fundamental injustice somewhere that needs to (be) addressed on how public education, and probably public employees in general, are treated and respected.”
Zanetta Stallworth is an AFT West Virginia Service Personnel Staff Representative. She spoke for just over five minutes about her concerns for the future of West Virginia. She later told MetroNews affiliate WJLS she takes state employee issues to heart since her son is a corrections officer.
“The fact that he’s here, he has a baby, he wants to stay in West Virginia but he has to have gainful employment. A lot of people (are saying) go back to school, get educated. You have people in there who have their masters, 55 plus and still are not receiving the adequate pay that they should be. So what is the answer?”
Stallworth added, like Cantley, she understands the hardships PEIA is facing but also is concerned things will not change despite public input.
“I just think people want their voices to be heard, and they are exercising their voices. But I don’t know if they’re really hearing them or not.”
Many who spoke applauded PEIA for hosting the hearing and Governor Jim Justice for his recent order to make Go365 optional. Go365 was a controversial PEIA program asking employees to keep track of their health habits in exchange for points that potentially result in lower costs.
The nearly three hour hearing was the third of the week. Previous hearings were held in Charleston and Morgantown on Monday and Tuesday, respectively.