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Harrison commission urged not to drop PEIA

by Paul Darst

STAFF WRITER

Officials in Berkeley and Mercer counties have a word of warning for Harrison County: What ever you do, don't drop out of PEIA.

That is what Harrison Assessor Cheryl Romano told county commissioners during their meeting Tuesday. Commissioners met with other county elected officials to discuss looking into dropping out of the state-run Public Employees Insurance Agency and switching to a private insurer.

"Our rates have gone up more than 30 percent during the past year," Diaz said during the meeting. "... We hope to survey the private (insurance) market to see if we can get coverage for all of our employees, including families and retired workers, at a lower rate.

"My idea is not to leave PEIA, but to look and see if there is a company out there that is willing to provide hospitalization coverage to our retired employees."

After authorities in Berkeley and Mercer counties heard the commission was looking into dropping out of PEIA, they contacted Harrison officials, Romano said.

"They've been through it, and now they're back with PEIA," she told commissioners.

Although the state's system has problems, it still can provide coverage to employees and retirees at a lower rate than private insurers, she said.

The private sector was so costly for Berkeley and Mercer, they had to re-enroll into PEIA, Romano said.

The issue arose in Harrison County most recently after the state PEIA board approved a $10 per month rate increase for all county employees in the system. Rates for state employees, meanwhile, remained the same.

Despite the PEIA having deficits in recent years, most of those covered under the program seem happy with it, said Edmund Matko, prosecuting attorney.

"I did an informal survey in my office, and everybody up there has PEIA," he said. "There is a reason for that. It's not perfect insurance, but right now, it seems to be better than it was."

PEIA's problems are indicative of larger ones, Matko said.

"This problem is not unique to Harrison County and it's not unique to the State of West Virginia," he said. "Nationally, we're suffering the same problem."

Because commissioners want to compare PEIA costs with those in the private sector, they agreed to move forward with a survey of rates. But they want to wait until the current legislative session is finished before moving ahead with a change.

"This issue is a very hot topic in the Legislature," commissioner Beth Taylor said. "It would be premature for us to do anything before the session ends."

If we pull out, we'll just make the system weaker."

Commissioners plan to meet again with the other elected officials before any action is taken.

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