On May 2, I attended the first PEIA Hearing from the newly appointed task force. “We are here to listen, take your concerns back, quantify the points, and design a plan for PEIA based on this,” stated former Senator Mike Hall.
On June 11, I attended the final PEIA Hearing in Charleston. I had my notes from the first meeting saved on my phone and I was prepared to see the progress that had been made. There was acknowledgement that premiums and co-pays were simply too high, border counties needed to have the ability to seek treatment out-of-state, drug coverage was a major problem, and prior authorization issues placed some people in danger.
Mike Hall said something that resonated with me. While describing the Tiers of what PEIA calls our “Ability to Pay,” he acknowledged that the vast majority of Public Employees are in the $20,000-$30,000 annual salary range.
I almost let that nugget slip right past me.
But a voice chided me into reality. WHAT? The majority only make HOW MUCH money per year? What’s the Federal Poverty Level (FPL)? Girl, look that up right now.
And so I did.
It turns out that based on the number of members in your family, you are weaving in and out of FPL in this salary range. I don’t say this for the people that live in that income bracket. You already know that. You also know that being slightly above the FPL isn’t anything to celebrate either. And yet, it was stated as almost an afterthought that most of PEIA’s active participants (those who work and pay premiums) are residing squarely inside of this bracket.
Why is it not only understood, but somehow acceptable that most of the people who carry the state of West Virginia on their backs weave themselves all around the nation’s FPL? One of the many speakers that night said it best, “We wake up WV, feed them, keep them safe, teach them, protect them, transport them, keep the state beautiful, and put them to bed each night. Why are we begging to be taken care of?”
Why do we have to beg for things like livable wages or decent healthcare? The money is there. Speakers at this hearing provided a wealth of information. For example, WV is known as “The Saudi Arabia of the US” when it comes to oil and gas reserves. Our only competition is Texas. We charge a gas severance of 5%. Texas charges 7.5%. That’s a savings of 33%. Couldn’t we at least mark our own gas severance task as even with Texas? What about medical cannabis? Beyond helping to curb the opioid epidemic, hemp industries can manufacture everything from toilet paper to housing insulation to plastic. Bonus? It’s biodegradable. Taxation, industry jobs, and health benefits all wrapped into one canopy.
Yet, we were told at the hearing that we would “hear something soon” in terms of solutions and recommendations.
What does “soon” mean?
At the rally held directly before this hearing, District 2 Congressional Candidate, Talley Sergent, hoped it means a special session in August when teachers and school personnel return back to work. Make the recommendations. Fix PEIA like you said you would.
Richard Ojeda, 3rd Congressional District Candidate, had another way of putting it. “They’re on a deadline of October 1st of this year to stop blowing smoke up our…” You get the point.
I don’t know what’s going to happen, but I know what we should NOT let happen.
Don’t let wheels continue to turn. Don’t settle for “just give us a little more time.” Don’t agree that this is too complicated to figure out right now. Don’t allow yourself to feel like you’re asking too much of your elected officials or this task force. You’re worth more than excuses. WE ARE WORTH MORE THAN EXCUSES.
Continue doing what you do: carry West Virginia on your backs. Shrug it off when you aren’t always appreciated or adequately compensated. But DON’T accept less than you deserve where PEIA is concerned. Don’t let this slide. Don’t wait.
This election could very well be one of the most important of our lives as West Virginians. Get educated. See who has voted in favor of bills that HELP us. Ask around. GO VOTE. But please, do not allow the same people who have been doing nothing slide through another election and continue to go to the Capitol and NOT serve YOU. Because in 2019, there is no election. In the political world that could mean open season on Public Employees with no holds barred because they have two years.
We have to remember not to forget in November.
Brianne Solomon is the Fine Art Department Chair at Hannan High School and is the democratic candidate for House of Delegates (District 14).