(12/05/2008)
Increased health insurance premiums will be taking a toll on state, county and school board budgets.

A number of state employees made a last-ditch effort Thursday to convince the Public Employee Insurance Agency (PEIA) Finance Board not to raise health care costs in the 2009.

Still, board members voted in favor of raising premiums for most current and retired state workers.

"Bottom line - technology is increasing, health care costs are increasing and so we either need to cut benefits or raise premiums," said Ted Cheatham, PEIA's Executive Director.

Health care premiums for active employees will increase an average of 9 percent depending on salary.

Single people will pay between $2 and $19 more every month while families will see an increase of $9 to $57.

Meanwhile, retirees under the age of 65 will be hit with an 11% average premium increase.

Those over 65 will not see a change in premium but the cap for out-of-pocket expenses will rise from $500 annually to $750.

"The state has a surplus and people are really hurting. There's no need at this point to raise their cost for health care," said Judy Hale, West Virginia President for the American Federation of Teachers.

"Most of the folks I represent struggle to pay their bills, to put food on the table and to raise their health care costs by six, seven dollars a month is almost impossible for them to do right now," said Bob Brown, Executive Director of the West Virginia School Service Personnel Association.

Cheatham says the state's insurance program is still not taking in enough money to cover annual costs.

"We're looking at another substantial rate increase next year," Cheatham said.

The board also voted to further increase premiums for employees who use tobacco.


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