HINTON, WV (WVNS)– More than two hundred thousand West Virginians rely on the Public Employees Insurance Agency to afford health insurance.

With the recent changes made in Senate Bill 268, thousands of people will feel the impact.

One of the biggest changes to PEIA is the higher increase in health premiums. Effective July 1st, 2023, employees can expect around a 26% insurance increase. This new plan will reflect a cost split of 80% for employers and 20% for employees.

While public teachers are also getting a $2,300 pay raise to help counter the higher premium, many teachers will still end up losing money because of the spouse surcharge.

A monthly surcharge will apply to spouses of active policyholders who opt into PEIA. Jennifer Buckland, an educator with Summers County High School, shared how this penalty combined with the higher premium will affect her financially.

“I will be losing money next year with this change,” said Buckland. “The small raise will not cover the cost of the premium increase and my husband’s entire portion of the premium, and it greatly upsets me that I am now responsible for his premiums.”

On top of losing money from the new policy, teachers are already facing financial strife from low incomes.

According to a National Education Association 2021 report, West Virginia ranked 49th for lowest teacher salary in the United States. With these low pay rates and added costs for insurance, many teachers will struggle to make ends meet.

Ellen Holt, a math teacher at Summers County High School, said she already knows some public employees who grapple with affording their expenses or paying for their children’s health coverage.

Holt mentioned the new changes may also deter future educators from pursuing a teaching career, which will be especially problematic amidst West Virginia’s current teacher shortage.

“The insurance benefit was one of the big things that drew people to education because we have really good insurance,” said Holt. “The more changes like this are made, the more I worry people won’t get into the profession–and we need good teachers and something to draw them in.”

While some teachers may not be seriously affected by the PEIA changes, others will struggle to adapt financially, especially with the other tall obstacles at hand.