Randy Yohe Published

Union Leaders Voice Opposition To PEIA Bill

A man stands a podium and speaks into a microphone. Several other individuals stand behind him. A TV camera can be seen capturing the moment.
Union leaders spoke in opposition of SB 268, PEIA reform, in front to House chamber.
Randy Yohe/West Virginia Public Broadcasting

The Senate’s Public Employees Insurance Agency (PEIA) bill is now in the hands of the House of Delegates. Proposed health insurance premium increases and coverage reductions to shore up the financially challenged program have many up in arms. Bill defenders say proposed pay raises and tax cuts will even things out.  

Union leaders representing many of the state’s 230,000 participants in the program held a press conference just outside the House chamber Friday morning. This comes after the House Finance Committee advanced the bill to the House floor Thursday night.  

Union representatives say Senate Bill 268 would benefit the richest and hurt the poorest by triggering a 26 percent premium increase, penalizing public employees that are married, potentially leading to the exclusion of first responders from PEIA and creating uncertainty for retirees. 

West Virginia AFL-CIO President Josh Sword led the union charge.  

“The plan is designed in their mind to address the solvency of PEIA by reducing benefits on the plan participants and kicking people off the plan,” Sword said. “As opposed to finding and directing a dedicated revenue stream. That’s our number one goal.” 

In countering the union’s claim, House Finance Committee member Del. John Paul Hott, R-Grant, said state actuarial data shows a $2,300 raise coupled with personal income and vehicle tax cuts will even things out – and help counter an expected $400 million PEIA shortfall coming in the next few years.  

“If we don’t address the issue, it will be insolvent probably within the next three to five years,” Hott said. “Some of the pros would be that accompanying that bill is a raise for the public employees with an attempt to offset the average increase in premium and hopefully be some type of a net positive.”

House Finance Committee member Del. Larry Rowe, D-Kanawha, called the current PEIA proposal unfair with advantages going to those with higher incomes. Rowe explained an amendment he was planning to propose to help fund PEIA.

“What we need to do is to refund the rainy day fund that we’ve had for a number of years,” Rowe said. “I’ll have an amendment to do that on the floor, but $100 million, and that would eliminate these huge increases.”

Sword was asked where the shore-up money should come from if not PEIA members. He said premium increases were expected sooner or later, but not this large lump sum and talked of tapping the state’s billion dollar plus surplus. 

“I think the surplus is a good place to start. We’re swimming in money down here and there is no excuse,” Sword said. “We can make it right. Get all the stakeholders in the room and have some honest dialogue. If we can get them to that point, we could come up with a solution that we can all buy in on.” 

On Friday, the House moved SB 268 to third reading with the right to amend. Several amendments are expected. The House will reconvene Saturday morning at 9 a.m.