County officials statewide hope a series of public hearings that began Monday will highlight the threat a string of double-digit health care premium increases pose to their budgets.
The 41 counties that cover their workers through the state’s Public Employees Insurance Agency face rate hikes of 10 percent, 19 percent and 17 percent between 2009 and 2011.
The counties are the largest of some 424 non-state employers, which also include cities and towns, targeted for the premium increases. Together, they cover about 10,200 West Virginia households, PEIA officials said.
PEIA provides about 200,000 state residents with health care. The employers with the most enrollees – state agencies, county school boards and higher education institutions – don’t face the premium hikes.
“It really hits the county employees in the pocketbook,” said Patti Hamilton, executive director of the West Virginia Association of Counties. “You are virtually wiping out any kind of pay raise for county employees with those kinds of premium increases.”
The PEIA counties run the gamut in size. With 57 workers, Mineral County hasn’t calculated the impact on its $4.8 million annual budget. But Commissioner Cynthia Pyles cited the county’s rising regional jail bill, and the recent opening of its day reporting center.
“Yeah. it’s going to hurt us,” Pyles said. “But at least we’re fortunate to be a growing county.”
Harrison County has 170 employees and is looking at a $120,000 increase to its annual PEIA bill, now at $1.2 million, come 2009. Commissioner Bernie Fazzini said Harrison had to scale back family coverage within the last decade because of rising costs. It was working toward restoring that level of benefits – until it learned of the proposed increases.
“We’re a little upset about it. We’re not sure why it’s limited to non-state employers,” Fazzini said Monday. “If it had been spread across all of PEIA, it surely would have been a lot easier to manage.”
All counties will plan their 2009 spending by March.
PEIA Director Ted Cheatham said the program keeps that batch of enrollees separate, and proposed the hikes to ensure the state does not have to step in to keep that pool solvent.
“The state is not responsible for the financials of the non-state employers,” he said Monday. “The state is trying not to subsidize their situation at all.”
But PEIA has tried to soften the blow by slating no increase for 2008.
“That’s an average of 5 percent over two years,” Cheatham said, citing the 2009 hike. “That’s still probably better than annual medical trend.”
Hamilton hopes county officials will speak up at the public hearings, which kicked off Monday at Tamarack near Beckley. Additional hearings are set for: Tuesday at the Charleston Civic Center; Nov. 13 at Marshall University Medical School; Nov. 14 at West Virginia Northern Community College; Nov. 15 at Morgantown’s Ramada Inn; and Nov. 19 at the Holiday Inn in Martinsburg.
Each hearing begins at 6 p.m., with registration at 5:30 p.m. PEIA staff will also be on hand for customer service questions before each hearing, at 4 p.m.
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