PEIA Task Force Born of Teacher Strike Hears From Public in Weirton
WEIRTON — Almost 30 people, many of them educators, came Saturday to the Millsop Community Center to express concerns and offer suggestions to the state’s PEIA Task Force.
The PEIA Task Force was created after a nine-day teacher strike in West Virginia that focused on pay and benefits for the state’s public employees.
“The purpose of these meetings are to craft a fix for the public insurance agency’s problems,” explained Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, at the start of Saturday’s meeting.
The outreach event in Weirton was among 21 meetings scheduled around West Virginia through June 11.
Dale Lee, president of the West Virginia Education Association, who also is a task force member, noted the committee’s outreach group is tasked with gathering input from West Virginians to get a better idea of how they are affected by the Public Employee Insurance Agency.
A running theme Saturday was the limitations PEIA places on those who live close to other states. Several said if they try to get medical services outside West Virginia, even if the doctor is part of their network, they have to pay higher rates — if the insurance covers the service at all.
“We should be able to have our choice to go across the river to a doctor, or go to Pittsburgh for a doctor,” said Mary Beth Carpenter.
Some pointed to having to pay thousands in medical bills because they sought treatment in Steubenville or East Liverpool.
Karen Randolph said she had to go to a particular doctor for a medical procedure and had to pay higher rates.
“He’s the only doctor for this in 50 miles,” she said.
Larry Jones noted problems with the pharmaceutical coverage in the PEIA program, saying they are required to get 90-day prescriptions for medication. He said PEIA, while it does go out for bid, needs to do better at attracting other plans and encouraging competition for health care providers.
“Force them to get the best that we can,” said Jones.
Andrea Mercer said her son, who has autism, is no longer covered by PEIA. She said she had to put him on the state health plan in order to continue seeing his doctor.
Paul Billiard, a retired educator and football coach, noted he and his wife continue to see increases in their costs from PEIA. He said he knows there is no easy fix to the problem.
“We got to a point we just quit worrying about it and paid it, because that’s all we could do,” said Billiard. “It’s almost etched in stone, it’s been here so long.”
As a retiree, Billiard said he doesn’t have the opportunity for an increase in pay to help meet some of the higher costs.
Randy Swartzmiller, a Democratic candidate for House of Delegates, said PEIA was created to provide public employees with an affordable health care plan, but now he hears of people being turned in to collection agencies because they can’t pay their medical bills.
He said eliminating the certificate of need requirement in West Virginia could encourage competition, keeping rates lower.
“Let’s knock the wall down in West Virginia,” he said.
Carmichael said he has heard many of the same thoughts throughout West Virginia, and the task force will collect comments from the meetings, as well as a questionnaire found online at peiataskforce.wv.gov, as it works to come up with a solution.
“We inherited this problem, and we’re intent on solving it,” Carmichael said.
Lee agreed, saying all suggestions are being discussed.
“We’ve made it clear that everything is on the table,” Lee said.