Agreement reached to freeze West Virginia teachers’ health premiums
WHEELING — Gov. Jim Justice on Tuesday informed public school teachers and other state employees their health insurance premiums won’t increase after July 1, as rates will be frozen at their current level for the next fiscal year.
Teachers across the state have been protesting proposed insurance increases through the Public Employees Insurance Agency, with teachers in some southern West Virginia counties staging one-day walk-outs late last week. The new rates had been imposed by the PEIA board, and were set to take effect July 1, much to the chagrin of teachers and the two teacher unions — the West Virginia Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers.
The PEIA increase had taken precedence with teachers over legislation presently being considered in the West Virginia Legislature that would give them a 1 percent pay raise over each of the next five years. The measure has passed the state Senate.
Teachers have indicated the amount of the yearly pay increase would be far below the increase they would pay for health care benefits under PEIA.
Speaking Tuesday in Lewisburg, Justice said the teacher’s coverage and premiums through PEIA are far better than they could find now in the commercial marketplace.
Justice said his chief of staff, Mike Hall, spoke with the head of PEIA, and the agency’s finance board will “freeze it, in other words keep what you have today — for the next fiscal year.”
Senate Majority Whip Ryan Weld (R-Brooke County) said this means PEIA rates will stay at 2018 levels, at least for the time being.
“I wholeheartedly agree and applaud the governor’s decision,” he said.
Weld said Justice will work with PEIA Director Ted Cheatham and his board to assess the rate system that is in place, and make changes.
“We’ve been getting a ton of feedback,” Weld said. “People have been really worried about their health insurance increase — it was their No. 1 concern over a pay increase. I think they would have been glad to get the 1-percent pay increase if it weren’t for the increase in their health insurance premiums. I’m sure there is some relief knowing now they won’t see an increase in their premiums.”
Calls made to the WVEA and the AFT were not immediately returned Tuesday.