Prognosis still iffy for PEIA: Rainy day fund, good year for claims keep increasing costs at bay, for now

Time passes slowly here in the Mountain State.
The world might change dramatically in just 24 hours, but sea changes are about as far removed from West Virginia as the ocean
Still, some will still say what a difference a year has made in the fortunes of the Public Employees Insurance Agency (PEIA).
Last week, the PEIA Finance Board met and pointed to the PEIA Rainy Day Fund as the primary reason the agency no longer faces a crisis.
Its executive director also noted a good claims year,  stable prescription drug costs and a decline in the number of state workers it covers.
These developments followed in the wake of a nine-day teachers’ walkout, creation of a 29-member task force and a potential special session of the Legislature to “fix” PEIA.
Clearly, the creation of a rainy day fund — replete with a $105 million contribution from the general fund — recently, made things better.
But that fund is no more than a Band-Aid. The real issue with PEIA, like all of health insurance, is inflation.
Of course, that fund could help cover those increasing costs for public employees for awhile. Yet, reportedly PEIA will need increased funding in 2021.
“In my mind that’s somewhere $50 million to $80 million as far a crystal ball goes,” PEIA’s executive director said.
Short of blank checks, inflation, is not a simple beast to tame.  Some have proposed a dedicated funding source, a premium freeze, etc.
Problem is those solutions may be subject to future problems, too, including inflation.
That’s where the PEIA Task Force was supposed to come in and recommend long-term solutions.
However, aside from a couple of recommendations that  never gained  traction it has been idle for months. It’s last meeting was before this year’s legislative session got under way in early January.
No one is certain what the next step for the task force is but we suspect it may be oblivion.
And as for special sessions, our state leaders have apparently moved on to “fixing” our public education system. A special session is now in recess on education, but  is expected to meet this spring, while PEIA remains curtained off.
Many would like to delude themselves into thinking the problems with PEIA will just go away. Unfortunately, failing long-term solutions, PEIA will suffer a recurrence of financial woes.
Its cost will increase   yearly and  will ultimately swamp the state budget an public employees.
That is, until something suddenly changes that will make a real difference.

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