WHEELING - Many of West Virginia's public employees can covert their unused sick time into retirement or health care credits, but new hires in state government no longer have that option.
Lawmakers eliminated those perks in 2008 amid growing concerns about the cost of public employee agreements and West Virginia's growing Other Post-Employment Benefit debt, said acting Senate President Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall.
"That's been closed," Kessler said. "The commitments of the past are out there, and we're stuck with them. But the practice has ceased."
West Virginia's OPEB debt was estimated at nearly $8 billion earlier this year.
Only employees hired before July 1, 2001, are allowed to "sell" their unused sick time for retirement or health care credit. All full-time classified employees hired before July 1, 2001, are eligible for 1.5 sick days each month, or 18 paid days per year. There is no limit to the amount of sick leave an employee can accumulate year to year, according to the West Virginia Division of Personnel.
Information provided by the West Virginia Consolidated Retirement Board states that for eligible employees, one day of unused sick time can be converted into two days of retirement credit, which is used to determine the amount of retirement benefits.
Two unused sick days also can equal one month of life insurance, or a month of single plan health care premium. Three days of sick time, meanwhile, equals one month of family plan premium coverage.
State Sen. Larry Edgell, D-Wetzel, a retired educator, said at the time of his retirement, he opted to convert his unused sick time into retirement credit. He said he did so because he would continue to receive retirement pay at the higher level indefinitely.
"If you choose health care, it runs out at some point and time," Edgell said.
Kessler said when the decision was made by lawmakers to allow public employees to exchange their accrued sick time for benefits, the cost of health care "was probably $50 a month for an individual, and $150 for a family plan."
Health care premiums now cost hundreds of dollars per employee each month.
"The cost for health care coverage has gone astronomically high, and (past Legislatures) didn't expect it to grow exponentially," Kessler said. "If there is complete implementation of the national health insurance initiative, I believe the pressure on states to make payments will be reduced."