A small group of West Virginia lawmakers received an update Sunday on the progress of a subcommittee tasked to hear concerns and proposed solutions from public employees regarding their health insurance program.
The West Virginia Legislature’s Select Committee on PEIA, Seniors and Long Term Care heard a presentation from Helen Matheny, who serves as convener of the Legislative and Public Outreach Subcommittee for the PEIA Task Force. She also works as director of collaborative relations and initiatives at West Virginia University’s Health Science Center.
Matheny told the joint committee that her group has met 11 times so far, with 10 more meetings scheduled. She said meeting attendees around the state have expressed concerns about drug costs, access to specialized care and what they see as a decline in quality of the benefits package received as a state employee.
“These individuals, a lot of them indicate that they really love the state of West Virginia,” Matheny told committee members. “They want their children to stay here, they love what they do. But, they say it is a challenge and they are concerned about recruitment and retention of qualified teachers.”
Matheny also said in her presentation that public employees have expressed interest in a long-term, dedicated funding solution for PEIA, or the Public Employees Insurance Agency. Ideas proposed at the outreach meetings include an increased severance tax on natural gas, a soda tax, a food tax and a tax on cannabis.
Gov. Jim Justice established the PEIA Task Force in the midst of a nine-day statewide strike by teachers, who were calling for an increase in pay and a long-term solution to the health insurance program for public employees. The task force was split into three subcommittees -- Public Outreach, Coverage & Plan and Cost & Revenue.
Representatives from the Coverage & Plan and Cost & Revenue subcommittees did not present to lawmakers Sunday. Members of the Cost & Revenue group met for the first time last week. The Coverage & Plan subcommittee is scheduled to meet for the first time on Wednesday.
The PEIA Task Force is expected to present a final report -- including potential long-term solutions -- to Gov. Justice, which will be relayed to lawmakers and the public at large.