By Matthew Young, RealWV
CHARLESTON, W.Va. – The debate surrounding SB 268, which includes a 26% increase in PEIA premiums, dominated the Saturday floor session in the House of Delegates. Proponents of the bill feel that it will guarantee long-term solvency to the state’s crumbing Public Employee Insurance Agency (PEIA), while the bill’s detractors argued that the rate increase forces employees to pay for the state’s failure to take prior action.
“I don’t think any of us are happy to be here today,” Del. Matthew Rohrbach said, while explaining the bill. “PEIA is $154 million in the hole. Failure to do nothing other than to continue the current course that we’ve been on, by 2027, we get up to a deficit of $424 million based on the Finance’s Board’s projections.”
“A significant part of this bill is to get the reimbursement up to 110% of Medicare,” Rohrbach continued. Right now our hospitals are being paid 50% of Medicare, and frankly they’re not going to take it any longer.”
Rohrbach referenced several situations where medical care providers have indicated future plans to discontinue acceptance of PEIA patients due to low reimbursement rates. According to Rohrbach, those providers will continue to accept PEIA patients should reimbursement rates be raised to the 110% of Medicare proposed by SB 268.
“For 12 years we’ve failed to increase premiums,” Rohrbach added. “There have been some changes in co-pays and deductibles, but we simply cannot go any longer with the current system we have without financial insolvency looming by 2027. We have to rescue this plan.”
In addition to the rate increase, the bill also alters guidelines for the spouse of a PEIA recipient. Under the terms of SB 268, working spouses who have insurance options available through their employer must either accept that coverage, or pay the actuarial rate of $147 per month to maintain coverage through PEIA. The bill also states that PEIA would be required to maintain a minimum of 80% cost-share for in-state members, and 70% for out-of-state members. PEIA would be required to meet this requirement by the start of fiscal year 2024. SB 268 was passed in the Senate on Feb. 25 by a vote of 29 to 4.
Two different amendment proposals designed to reduce the percentage of the rate increase were overwhelmingly rejected before debate began on the bill proper.
“I heard a quote (today) about ‘spreading the pain,’” Del. Joey Garcia, D-Marion said, while speaking in opposition of the bill. “When we have $2 billion in surplus; when we have money to fix just about whatever issue we can, we’re going to spread the pain? That doesn’t make sense to me.”
Del. Todd Longancare, R-Greenbrier, also spoke in opposition of SB 268, although for reasons differing from Garcia’s.
“We already know where this is going to go – the whip count has already been taken,” Longanacre began. “We know what’s going to happen, or this bill would not be before us here on this floor. But why are we here?”
“This (PEIA) is proof that when government gets involved in something the private sector should be doing, it’s going to fail,” Longanacre continued. “One-third of the workforce in West Virginia works for the state. The other two-thirds fund it all, and they’re never allowed in the room for these negotiations.”
“750,000 people working in the state, and one-third of them we’re arguing about funding their insurance,” Longanacre added. “The other 500,000 have to do it themselves. I respect your (legislators) desire to keep this sinking ship afloat at the taxpayer’s expense. So as we continue to grow government, I respect your vote. But I would ask that you please respect my no vote on this bill.”
Del. Danielle Walker, D-Monongalia, called SB 268 “an ableism bill,” saying, “If you have a spouse who doesn’t work, you don’t get a penalty. But if you have a spouse who is working, who happens to have insurance at their employer – no matter how bad it is, they have to go with it.”
Del. Todd Kirby, R-Raleigh, was perhaps the most passionate in his opposition of SB 268, saying, “Collections just for this past month of February were $112 million above estimates. That is what came in over projections – money that we should be using to fix this instead of pitting citizens against other citizens in this state.”
“Severance taxes from coal and natural gas exceeded their projected year-to-date totals by $548 million this year,” Kirby continued. “In that same time period, the total severance taxes collected were $740 million.”
“Let there be no mistake, this whole debate over tax cuts or PEIA is a false choice and a manufactured crisis contrived to pit us, once again, against one another,” Kirby added. “If our budget had been handled appropriately and responsibly, then we could have easily funded PEIA and provided tax cuts to families and workers throughout the state with plenty of surplus left over.”
“People at home might be asking, ‘Where are all the billions of dollars we keep hearing about? Where did they go?’” Kirby concluded. “I’ll tell you where they went, and the legislative record of this body will show you exactly where they went. They went to the Economic Development Fund so that unelected and unaccountable bureaucrats could give your money away to their buddies for pet projects that most West Virginians don’t want and will never benefit from.”
SB 268 was passed in the House by a vote of 69 to 27. Both Kirby and Longanacre, as well as most House Democrats, voted against its passage. The bill will now be reported to Gov. Jim Justice for his consideration.
RealWV will provide updates as to the status of SB 268 as additional information is made available.