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Workers fear changes to health plan
Public Employees Insurance Agency
faces $48 million shortfall this year

by Martha Bryson Hodel
Linda Adkins is the picture of health. With a rosy complexion set off by a black turtleneck sweater and bright blond hair framing her cheerful face, the Sherman High School librarian’s appearance gives no clue to her past health crises, which include diabetes-related blindness and kidney failure.
“If it hadn’t been for the Public Employees Insurance Agency, I would not be alive,” Adkins said in an interview last week. Other problems resulting from her diabetes at one point threatened to leave her in a wheelchair, unable to walk.
“I’m probably one of their nightmares, but I have nothing but praise for PEIA,” she said.
But changes are coming to the state’s second-largest insurance program, which finances health benefits to an estimated 201,000 West Virginians. That includes 95,000 teachers and other state, county and municipal employees and their dependents.
By June 30, the end of the current fiscal year, the agency is expected to be $48.5 million short of what it needs to pay this year’s expenses.
Gov. Cecil Underwood has asked the Legislature to appropriate $10.7 million that will cover increased premiums paid by employers in the coming fiscal year. The Legislature has contributed to PEIA funding in just three of the past eight years.
The PEIA subcommittee of the Senate Finance Committee meets today, according to Finance Chairman Oshel Craigo, D-Putnam.
The governor’s proposal will be just a starting point, Craigo said.
“We’ll fund more than that,” he said. “We’re going to fund PEIA totally. We just don’t know what plan yet.”
The changes proposed by PEIA’s finance board do not include an increase in employees’ premiums. But that doesn’t mean employees won’t bear the cost, said Daniel Haney, executive director of the West Virginia Education Association.
“The new plan’s design — including co-pays, deductibles, out-of-pocket maximums and a preferred provider plan — increases costs to employees by $48.5 million,” Haney said. “In some cases, out-of-pocket maximums are doubled or even tripled for employees,” he said.
Most of the increases are intended to change the way beneficiaries use the plan. Overuse is a problem, Craigo said.
And that’s what worries Linda Adkins and others like her.
Adkins has often traveled out of state for the care she needed, to facilities like the Cleveland Clinic and Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. Her concern about PEIA changes is that others may not be able to receive the care that has helped her.
“I would not like to see other people delay getting treatment they need because they’re afraid of what it will cost,” she said.

Stricken by diabetic retinopathy in the early 1980s, Adkins was receiving laser treatments from a Charleston ophthalmologist.
“But my eyes kept hemorrhaging,” she said. “I became totally blind in my left eye and then my right eye began to hemorrhage.”
Then her husband read about the Wilmer Eye Institute at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore and how they helped Sugar Ray Leonard, whose vision was threatened by his years as a boxer.
“Wilmer had medical equipment that was not available locally at the time,” Adkins said. “I made many trips to Wilmer during the course of a year and a half, but my vision was saved.
“The doctors there told me that if I had not gotten the bleeding stopped, I would surely have lost my sight,” she said.
“The sad thing is that my local doctor did not refer me; I went on my own.”
Adkins also had to refer herself to the Cleveland Clinic for treatment of an open sore on her foot. Although she was being treated locally for the sore, doctors at the Cleveland Clinic realized she had osteomyelitis, a bone infection that could have confined her to a wheelchair.
Then there was the kidney transplant she had in 1990, the installation of an insulin pump and the enormous amounts of medicine she must take to stave off rejection of her new kidney and keep other problems under control. In spite of what she sees as good health insurance, she works a second job part-time, as a reference librarian at the University of Charleston, to cover her medical bills.
“I know that I’m lucky, and that I have the taxpayers of West Virginia to thank for that,” she said. “But I do believe that health care should be a right.”
Her concern about the proposed changes in the PEIA program are that others may not be able to receive the care that has helped her.
“I would not like to see other people delay getting treatment they need because they’re afraid of what it will cost,” she said.
“Unfortunately, we don’t have a Cleveland Clinic here in West Virginia. And I’m afraid that other people might not be able to go after the top-notch care that I have had.”
Status of major bills
BUDGET: (SB125 HB2200) Introduced Jan. 13 in both houses. Pending in House and Senate finance committees.
GRAY MACHINES: (SB164) Making it a felony to possess a video poker machine or any amusement device that could be used for gambling. Introduced in Senate Jan. 20. Pending in Senate Judiciary Committee.
GRADUATED DRIVERS LICENSE: (2634) Implements a graduated drivers license for people under 18. Introduced in House Feb. 3. Pending in House Roads and Transportation Committee.
GREENBRIER BILL: (SB380, HB2594) Allowing The Greenbrier hotel to open a casino. Introduced in House and Senate Feb. 2. Pending in Senate Judiciary Committee and House Finance Committee.
HELMET BILL: (HB2403, SB237) Allowing experienced adults to ride motorcycles without helmets. Introduced in the House and Senate Jan. 27. Pending in the House Roads and Transportation Committee and the Senate Transportation Committee.
JOINT CUSTODY: (SB367 HB2598) Making joint child custody the preference in divorce, separation or annulment. Introduced in Senate Jan. 29. Introduced in House Feb. 2. Pending in Senate and House judiciary committees.
MOUNTAINTOP REMOVAL: (SB146) To repeal 1998 mountaintop removal mining law. Introduced in the Senate Jan. 15. Pending in Committee on Energy, Industry and Mining. (SB414) Creating Office of Explosives and Blasting. Introduced in Senate Feb. 3. Pending in Committee on Energy, Industry and Mining.
NUDE DANCING (SB69) To prohibit nude dancing in private clubs. Introduced in Senate Jan. 13. Pending in Senate Judiciary Committee.
OPEN MEETING: (HB2005) Revising the Open Government Meetings Act. Introduced Jan. 13. Pending in House Judiciary Committee.
SMOKELESS TOBACCO TAX: (HB2379) Imposing a tax on smokeless tobacco and directing the proceeds to the Children’s Health Insurance Program. Introduced in the House Jan. 26. Pending in House Finance Committee.

All Clarksburg Fire Department
officers receive full certification
by James Fisher
Being a firefighter involves more than just putting out fires — it also means intense and nearly constant training.
That training and study has made the Clarksburg Fire Department just the second department in the state to have all its officers meet the National Fire Protection Association’s standards to be certified as Fire Officer Level 1.
The certification means that the officers have taken classes in various aspects of firefighting, including hazardous materials, arson detection and personnel and field situation management. They now meet the national standards set by the fire protection association.
“This may be something down the road that every officer in the state will need to have,” said Lt. Rick Lafferty.
The only other department in the state that has all its officers certified is Beckley, according to Dean Otto, spokesman for the Clarksburg department. Beckley’s department is comparable in size to Clarksburg’s, and may even be a little smaller, he said, so they may have fewer officers.
The West Virginia Fire Marshal’s office does not require all officers to meet this standard right now, but Lafferty said many other states do. He said they are moving toward requiring all officers to be certified.
Most of the officers have been involved in training over the years that put them close to meeting the requirements, Lafferty said. At an officers meeting last year, it was decided that the rest of the training should be completed to get the officers certified, said Lt. Robert Webb.
“We decided to start with the officers and then work our way down through the department,” he said.
After researching what was necessary to meet the standards, Lafferty said, the officers discovered that most of them were very close and would only need a few more classes.
The most recent round of classes involved leadership, incident safety and arson detection for first responders.
Except for a few specific areas, there are no state or national requirements for yearly training, Lafferty said. Clarksburg firefighters have just always been involved in on-going training.
“That’s just the way we are,” he said. “There are certain things we have to keep up on, like haz-mat, but the rest of it just benefits us to keep up on it.”

Next generation of yo-yo
experts go head-to-head
by Troy Graham
CHARLESTON — Harrison County’s legislative delegation will introduce a bill that would allow counties to give cash refunds to taxpayers when they are overcharged because of clerical errors.
Current law only allows for taxpayers who are overcharged to be credited that amount on the following year’s taxes. But for senior citizens who would pay no personal or real estate taxes in the next year because of the homestead exemption or any other reason, there is no way to credit them the money.
The Harrison County Commission was presented with a case this year where a woman was mistakenly taxed. Because she qualified for a homestead exemption, there was no way to return the money.
Following that case, county officials asked the Harrison County delegation to introduce a bill that would allow for cash refunds in such cases. The bill would only allow for cash refunds when there is no other way to credit the money to a taxpayer.
“The point is if we owe people money because of a tax error we should pay them,” said Delegate Frank Angotti, D-Harrison.
All four Harrison County delegates will sponsor the bill in the House, and Harrison County Senator Joe Minard will sponsor it in the Senate, he said.
“That’s just a glitch in the law,” said Jim Harris, the Harrison County administrator. “I think it’s happened in the past.”
In most cases, the amount of money overcharged is less than $40, Angotti said. But the county needs a way to refund the money “if it’s 10 cents,” Harris said.

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Clarksburg Publishing Company, P.O. Box 2000, Clarksburg, WV 26302 USA
Copyright Clarksburg Publishing Company 1999