Feb. 09--CHARLESTON -- The House of Delegates shot down five Republican amendments to the OPEB bill Wednesday, but OK'd one by Finance Committee Chairman Harry Keith White, D-Mingo.
The bill goes to third reading and possible passage today.
SB 469 is a plan to pay down the unfunded $5.3 billion Other Post Employment Benefits (OPEB) debt for retiree health care in 24 years, beginning in 2016.
Among its measures, it sets aside $30 million per year for the state Retiree Health Benefit Trust Fund, to be derived from personal income tax revenue now going to pay off the unfunded old worker's compensation fund debt -- when that debt is retired in 2016.
Another $5 million from that same source will go to a new Post-July 1, 2010, Employee Trust Fund created to provide incentives for employees hired after that date who were previously excluded from OPEB benefits.
Minority Leader Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha, and others posed a couple amendments doing away with the first section of the bill that outlines 12 cost-containment measures for the Public Employee Insurance Agency (PEIA) board and director to pursue.
Armstead said they have little to do with OPEB and more to do with implementing federal health care reforms through state law. One measure, he said, gives doctors a means to avoid treating the most costly patients.
Another, using Centers for Medicare and Medicaid innovations to save money will do just the opposite. He cited a Congressional Budget Office report that said the measures generally did nothing and sometimes increased costs.
White opposed all the amendments. Of the first two, he said, "We want the PEIA director to report to this Legislature, because we want to be able to recognize what they're doing, particularly with cost containment and the quality of health care enhancement."
An amendment by Delegate Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, tried to do away with the $5 million post-July 2010 fund. He said it simply sets up another liability, and the money could be used immediately.
One amendment by Delegate Daryl Cowles, R-Morgan, tried to make teachers state employees since the bill puts school board OPEB liability on the state's shoulder.
And one tried to shift power to implement some of the plans from the PEIA board to the Legislature.
All failed along party lines, and a couple drew the support of only 22 of the 34 Republicans.
White's successful amendment had co-sponsors from both parties. It tweaked two of the 12 measures -- one regarding payments for hospitalacquired infections, one for reducing re-admissions for the same condition within 30 days -- to make them more patient-friendly and conform to federal guidelines.
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