Cohen

By STEVE COHEN

CHARLESTON -- So let's get this straight: 37,000 retired West Virginia public employees suddenly face new co-pays, out-of-pocket expenses or have discovered that their doctors no longer accept new coverage under the state's PEIA plan.

The agency's finance board will meet on Dec. 13 to consider options to address this, in keeping with Administration Secretary Robert Ferguson's recent statement that PEIA has an obligation to be "fiscally responsible to the taxpayers."

PEIA claims to be looking at several ways to "ease the pain for thousands of retirees," but the Agency may still be unaware of one of the most obvious options available? Attorney General Darrell McGraw settled a lawsuit two days after his 2004 re-election on behalf of PEIA and two other plaintiff state agencies -- the state Health Department and the Workers Compensation Fund. The case was against the manufacturers of OxyContin, and McGraw settled for $10 million, but so far he has not given one dime of the award to PEIA, even though his office alleged that the agency suffered at least $440,000 in losses.

Nor does it appear that McGraw even bothered to advise PEIA -- his client -- about the settlement agreement. Former PEIA director Tom Susman has publicly stated that PEIA expected to receive money under the OxyContin settlement. Instead, McGraw has directed $3.3 million of the money to his personal injury lawyer campaign contributing friends and has used the remaining settlement dollars as his own personal slush fund.

If PEIA wants to act in a fiscally responsible manner, it should hold Darrell McGraw responsible for his shameless misallocation of the proceeds. After all, a good portion of that settlement money belongs to our retired state employees, not Attorney General McGraw.

People affected by McGraw's failure to allocate the award to the other state agencies have be gun to take action to get the money they should have received under the settlement. The federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services is withholding $4.1 million in future Medicaid payments to the state because of McGraw's failure to make payment to the state Health Department. And the West Virginia Business and Industry Council is demanding demanded that McGraw give at least $2.2 million to the Workers Compensation fund which he was also representing in the case. Hopefully, someone will hold Attorney General McGraw accountable for his misdeeds.

Cohen is executive director of West Virginia Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse.

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