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Public employees rally against PEIA cuts in Beckley

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Public employees rally against PEIA cuts in Beckley
By Lindsay Oliver, WVVA Multimedia Journalist

BECKLEY (WVVA) - Hundreds of public employees flooded Beckley Thursday night to fight against an increase in health care insurance costs.

Representatives from West Virginia's Public Employees Insurance Agency, or PEIA, held a public hearing to discuss cuts to the program.

PEIA is a non-profit state agency that told the crowd that they have no choice but to increase participants' costs due to rising health care costs.

It affects all kinds of public employees, from teachers, police officers, division of highways -- employees who say they just can't afford it off what they make.

"With the deductible, premium adjustments and out of pocket, for my family it will cost me an additional $6,374," one public educator tells the crowd. "That doesn't include if I have some kind of a medical emergency. I don't know about you all, but I can't afford that kind of an increase.

The hundreds of frustrated and angry public employees filled Tamarak in Beckley for the hearing on cuts to their health insurance.

"It is a tragedy," says PEIA Director Ted Cheatham. "People that have an illness are going to be very hurt by this plan, there's no question about it. The board has a fiduciary responsibility to the tax payer, to the state of West Virginia to pass a finance plan based on the budget we've received. As I said, we don't make a profit, but we have to break even. We can't spend more than we make."

Cheatham says with medical costs rising about 6% per year, they need to continue to find more revenue.

Since the state isn't increasing their contribution, the cost is being passed on to people like preschool teacher Myra Wright.

"This is my son David and he has spina bifida along with a handful of other things," she tells WVVA. "We already pay out more than $10,000 per year as we itemize our taxes in co-pays and doctors visits and prescriptions and equipment and therapy. If we continue down this path of raising our premiums and prices on everything, it will get to the point where we can't do it."

PEIA has called on the state legislature for help and few legislators were in attendance, like Senate Majority Whip Daniel Hall.

"The general public doesn't want to do tax increases, but everything is going to have to be on the table," he tells WVVA.

"I don't know where this ends," says Cheatham. "There's not a good end in sight. I do see continued benefit cuts."

Senator Hall says the Senate is working on the problem, but with the budget already strained, he's not sure where that money would come from.