CHARLESTON, W.Va. — One educator in Berkeley County summed it up when he told the PEIA Finance Board during a public hearing in Martinsburg he planned to consider a career change.  The speaker said he would have to go to work for his father in the construction business to pay for his insurance. His story is similar to many who have spoken to the finance board as they travel the state to detail the changes for next year’s PEIA health insurance coverage for state workers.

“It’s amazing the number of people who come out and are absolutely irate,” said West Virginia Education Association President Dale Lee. “We used to hear all the time, ‘Come to West Virginia and get a teaching job. The pays not all that much, but the benefits are great.’  If that were ever true, it’s certainly not true now.”

Lee attended the first two PEIA meetings.  He said members are livid because it didn’t have to be this way.  Because of the 80/20 rule an increase in premiums isn’t an option, so the changes have been substantial increases in co-pays, deductibles, and out-of-pocket costs for insured members.  Lee said they haven’t’ had a premium increase in the last five years, but said the resulting changes have been the equivalent to a pay cut for West Virginia teachers.

“The problem is the state has not put any additional money into health insurance for what will be the fifth year,” said Lee. “With the way health costs have skyrocketed, tell me any other employer who hasn’t paid any additional money into health insurance in the past five years.”

Lee said the state has options, but isn’t willing to exercise them.  He specifically noted the need for an increased tax on the state’s shale gas being shipped out of state. He further lamented tax credits offered as incentive to entice more industry development in West Virginia in recent years.

“The way to attract business into the state of West Virginia is a great public school system, a great education system,” said Lee. “We’re not going to have that when you are lowest paid around and now the benefits are being cut dramatically and you can’t fill our classrooms with certified teachers.”