CHARLESTON — The president of the American Federation of Teachers for West Virginia said Sunday that providing a funding stream for the Public Employees Insurance Agency (PEIA) will be foundational to changes that teachers, service employees and others who are enrolled in the insurance program hope to see during the upcoming legislative session.
Christine Campbell made the comments Sunday, after listening to PEIA Director Ted Cheatham offer a presentation on the program to the Select Committee on PEIA, Seniors and Long Term Care.
Cheatham said that changes to PEIA require legislators to change state code.
"Just the bottom line is, when people ask what is a fix? We keep seeing the costs go up, so we pay down the reserves," said Campbell, addressing the core issue with PEIA. "Now, there's no funding source to offset a lot of these costs.
"Our members say PEIA needs to be fixed," she added. "They're saying we shouldn't be going back to the drawing board, back to the legislature, back to the governor every year for more money, so I think the long-term funding stream is what they're referencing when they said it needs to be fixed.
"The task force is probably going to make good recommendations, but those recommendations, as Ted said in this meeting, are going to require legislation," she said. "I want to see the wheel of the legislature to actually take those recommendations and provide a system that benefits the people who are serving West Virginia.
"The funding stream is the biggest," she added. "If they're not willing to do that, the rest of it's not going to matter."
Cheatham told committee members Sunday that PEIA changes depend heavily on changes to state code. He reported that PEIA is enacting two programs — diabetes prevention and weight loss — for PEIA members this fiscal year.
Regarding funding, he said that it is up to legislators to fund it from a sugar tax, a marijuana tax or another source of revenue.
Campbell said she believed the message sent to PEIA Task Force members is that PEIA officials have done all they can do for the program.
"Just from this particular presentation, Ted clearly has been listening to what has been happening around a couple of hearings, and we're all hearing the same thing," said Campbell. "What's disappointing is that he's saying we've already done all we can do or people don't understand the plan."
"The (Task Force) Plan Subcommittee and the Cost and Revenue Subcommittee haven't met to make the recommendations, or the input from the Public Outreach Committee," she said. "I'm disappointed that those folks weren't involved in the public hearings as much as we were so they could hear what people are dealing with, as opposed to just the 'paper version' of PEIA."
Campbell and legislators on the committee reported that PEIA members who live in border counties and those who travel out of state have reported that they can't get PEIA coverage in out-of-state facilities or that they are dissatisfied with the service provided by PEIA at out-of-state facilities.
Campbell said the issue for those PEIA members in border counties is more complex than the explanation given in the presentation.
"We've heard a lot of comments about the procedures or prescription drugs not being approved and they and to appeal," she said. "It's like they're not being heard, when it comes to, these are the issues that are out there.
"We've also heard from people who are away from home and can't get coverage when they're away from home, because they're out of state," she said. "So it's much more complex than the planned, paper version that keeps getting presented in these subcommittee meetings."
Cheatham told legislators that changes to PEIA relied on funding.
"If you're going to look at a revenue stream for PEIA, I'm going to present a plan to you in January," he said. "One way or the other...something is going to happen in January.
"The task force is going to say, 'Here's where you're going to get your money, sugar tax, sports betting..and that's the tax you're going to take to the legislature.'
"There's been a lot of discussion," he continued. "'Can you pass the sugar tax? Can you pass the marijuana tax?'
"That's critical to this whole solution," he said, adding, I want to bring that up to you."