By Stephen Baldwin, RealWV
After hosting forums across the state where public employees including police, fire, emergency services, and health departments pled their case against additional increases, the Public Employment Insurance Association (PEIA) board voted on Thursday to raise rates for the second year in a row.
Coming into the meeting, proposed raises on rates included a 10.5% increase for state employees, a 13% increase plus a new spousal surcharge for non-state government employees, and a 10% increase for non-Medicare retirees.
At the board meeting, one adjustment was made. The spousal surcharge was eliminated for non-state government employees, but the overall rate increase went up from 13% to 14%.
Dr. Steven Eshenaur, executive director and health officer for the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department, summed up his concerns in one word during a forum in Charleston last month: “Unsustainable.” He said, “We cannot sustain these types of raises and keep a balanced budget.”
Monica Mason, the executive director for the Kanawha County Emergency Ambulance Authority called the proposed increases “extremely disturbing.”
Larry Deitz, a deputy in the Kanawha County Sheriff’s Department, told the board, “I’m sure everybody’s minds are already made up, I get it, but I wanted to say my peace.” He argued that PEIA refused to cover his daughter’s health situation, which caused him to take extra shifts to cover the cost out of pocket.
This latest rate hike follows an increase last year. Senate Bill 268 raised rates by almost 25%. These new increases are on top of that for the coming fiscal year.
As reported by Reuters in September 2023, private insurance rates are also expected to rise in 2024. Analysts predict private insurance rates to increase 8.5% on average across the nation.
Public employee advocates in West Virginia say their colleagues are facing a much higher increase than that.
Dale Lee, President of the West Virginia Education Association, said today, “I don’t know any other private plan that is going to see a 34.7% increase in two years.”
In October 2021, Governor Jim Justice said of potential rate increases, “I’m the one that’s telling you that unless there’s a meteorite to hit the earth your premiums are not going to go up.”
Now, Justice is floating the idea of giving public employees a raise this coming year to help offset the costs. Legislative leaders, however, have said they’re not sure the state can afford that.
The legislature convenes in January.