Don’t Just Pay More for PEIA

Fifty million here, fifty million there, and pretty soon, you’re talking real money.

Apologies to the late Sen. Everett Dirksen, R-Ill., who usually is credited with warning that government spending can get out of control by saying that, “A billion here, a billion there, and pretty soon, you’re talking real money.”

West Virginians should keep that in mind in regard to the Public Employees Insurance Agency.

Two key concerns prompted public education employees to shut down schools throughout the state earlier this year. Pay rates were on issue. The other was the PEIA. Many of those who rely on it for health insurance were upset about premium increases, limits on benefits and “wellness” initiatives intended to help control PEIA costs.

One of the rallying cries during the school shutdown was a demand to “Fix PEIA.”

Gov. Jim Justice pledged to do that. He appointed a special task force to address the issue and recommend solutions.

Task force members held public meetings throughout the state and held multiple hearings to get information about the PEIA.

It is a gigantic enterprise. About 200,000 public employees and their families rely on the PEIA for health insurance. That costs the agency about $950 million a year.

Much of that — at least half, by some estimates — comes from West Virginia taxpayers. Legislators have to appropriate massive subsidies for the PEIA every year.

“Fixing” the PEIA will be a daunting task. But early indications are that task force members are focusing on only one side of the equation — money pumped into the agency by taxpayers.

One conclusion has been that getting the PEIA’s financial house in order will require a new, dedicated revenue stream of $50 million a year.

Would that it could be that simple.

That $50 million may do the trick for a year or even two. After that, however, more and more money will be needed.

Health care costs appear poised to increase at a rate greater than that for inflation in general. Within a few years, that inflation will require a dedicated revenue stream of far more than $50 million to keep the PEIA afloat without increases in enrollees’ premiums and/or new limits on benefits.

Justice should refuse to accept a task force report that recommends only finding more money for the PEIA. Steps to control health care spending need to be taken, too.

Otherwise, Mountain State residents may be looking at higher taxes in multiples of $50 million within a few years.