West Virginia counties are facing daunting health insurance increases for their employees through the West Virginia's Public Employees Insurance Agency.

The increases could tip some counties into financial distress after next year.

PEIA is holding hearings across the state this month, with county officials expected to show up in protest.

Forty-one counties, including Calhoun, are among the non-state agency employers that insure their workers through PEIA.

They face three years worth of premium increases that actually begin in 2009 and average more than 15 percent.

PEIA says the long overdue rate hikes are needed to keep the program solvent.

PEIA is softening the blow by seeking no rate increase for 2008.

The West Virginia Association of Counties says the double-digit increases will make it very difficult to keep employee pay competitive or to give pay increases.

PEIA's hearings started yesterday in Beckley and run through November, with meetings slated for Charleston, Huntington, Wheeling, Morgantown and Martinsburg.