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PEIA to consider public comments following series of hearings

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PEIA to consider public comments following series of hearings
By Carrie Hodousek, WV MetroNews

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Board members of the Public Employees Insurance Agency will spend the next few weeks reviewing public comments before taking a vote on a plan involving proposed benefit reductions for state workers and retirees.

Those comments came from a series of pubic hearings held across West Virginia this month. The final meeting was Thursday night at the University of Charleston. Meetings before that were held in Huntington, Beckley, Martinsburg, Morgantown and Wheeling.

Jon Dodds, an engineer from Fairmont, traveled over 1,000 miles to speak at almost all of the meetings.

“I’m angry. I’m fighting,” was his reason for making those trips.

“I was so moved, incredibly moved by the stories people are telling,” Dodds continued.

The crowd, at one point during Thursday’s hearing, all shouted “58 cents!” to PEIA members on stage. That’s how much Riverside High School teacher Jacob Fertig currently has in his bank account.

“I can’t afford gas to get to and from work sometimes,” he told MetroNews. “It’s awful and shouldn’t be that way for someone who is a teacher that’s working and has a college degree.”

Fertig, who lives in Rand with his wife and two children, said he’s been trying to make ends meet for years, but if he sees more changes in his health insurance, he may have to leave the state.

“I’ve resolved pretty well in the last few years to buckle down and fight it, but if it tilts that way, I would have no choice but to either leave or go into another profession,” he said.

Fertig’s wife has a chronic illness and his daughter was born with a physical disability, so he said, “The increases in costs that we had last year alone were crippling for me.”

Working two jobs, Fertig said he often passes on regular doctor visits.

“I can’t afford to do that. I can’t afford the copays to do that because, for me, my wife and my kids going to the doctor is not something that we can skip,” he said.

Concerns about higher deductibles, premiums, copays and prescription costs have been the focus of the public hearings as PEIA tries to find a way to come up with about $55 million.

The PEIA Finance Board is proposing that at least $25 million come from active employees and $15 million from retirees.

Ted Cheatham, director of PEIA, said there needs to be “a give and take on both sides.”

“I think, ultimately, there needs to be a little bit more from the employer every year, a little bit from the employee every year. It needs to be shared as best you can moving forward,” Cheatham said.

“West Virginia is a wonderful state. It’s got wonderful people. It’s got wonderful culture,” he said. “It is unfortunate that we’ve gotten into these situations.”

The PEIA board will meet Dec. 1 to vote on a proposal which will then be submitted to the state Legislature ahead of the 2017 Regular Legislative Session.