Delegates say PEIA spouse bill could have caused teachers strike

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A bill opponents said could have caused a third teachers strike in as many years was defeated in a House committee Monday afternoon on a tie vote.

The measure, HB 4043, would have required spouses of state workers who have jobs outside state government but still get their health insurance through PEIA to take their employer’s insurance or pay premiums to the state.

Isaac Sponaugle

The bill generated intense discussion among members of the House Banking and Insurance Committee before it was defeated on an 11-11 vote. Delegate Isaac Sponaugle, D-Pendleton, said it could have caused another protest by teachers.

“So by all means pass this out. We’re going to have thousands of friends down here. An action alert has already been emailed out. I’ve had superintendents say ‘What in the world are you trying to get them to walk out again,'” Sponaugle said.

The bill, which was originally sponsored by Delegate Brandon Steele, R-Raleigh, was changed in a committee substitute.

Supporters of the amended bill said it could have saved PEIA up to $45 million which would help stabilize the program and it would have only impacted those spouses that had jobs with insurance not those who don’t have coverage or don’t have jobs.

Del. Dianna Graves (R-Kanawha, 38)

“A vote yes for this particular bill is a vote to protect those that are most vulnerable under PEIA insurance who have no other coverage available to turn to and is a cost-saving mechanism in hopes of keeping PEIA viable for the future,” Delegate Dianna Graves, R-Kanawha, said.

Many private employers require the spouses of their workers to take the health insurance coverage where they work. The bill was going down the same avenue but would have permitted the spouse to continue receiving PEIA coverage by about $330 a month.

PEIA Executive Director Ted Cheatham, answering questions from the committee, admitted the bill had the potential to cost thousands of state workers more if their spouses stayed on family coverage. Cheatham said those couples had already made that decision.

“They’ve evaluated what’s available to them, what it costs, what the benefits are, and decided they wanted to be on PEIA,” Cheatham said. “In theory, they’ve optimized their purchase decision. Anything you do to impact that purchase decision for those people would be a negative impact to them.”

Ted Cheatham

Under further questioning, Cheatham told Delegate Eric Nelson, R-Kanawha, it was possible the money generated from having spouses pay premiums could lower premiums and take pressure away from co-pays.

Some delegates questioned the motivation behind the bill.

“I don’t know what we’re doing here,” Delegate Jason Barrett, D-Berkeley, said. “Things have gone pretty smoothly in this session for 30 days and we want to incite our public employees again.”

Work stoppages the last two years by teachers have focused on PEIA coverage. As a result the plans of the last two years haven’t been changed. There have been no premium increases and the legislature along with Gov. Jim Justice created at PEIA Rainy Day Fund.

The committee substitute for the bill passed on a 12-9 vote Monday but when it came time to vote on the bill it failed 11-11.

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