Las Vegas Sun

November 22, 2014

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STATE GOVERNMENT:

Domestic partners must wait for coverage

Insurance mandated by new law won’t be offered until next July

Nevada will begin offering insurance coverage to the domestic partners of state and some other government employees in July 2010 — nine months after the new state law granting such benefits takes effect.

Officials with the Public Employees Benefits Board voted unanimously Thursday to delay extending the benefits, saying more time is needed to set rates and coverage plans that include domestic partners and their children.

“We would be in a crisis mode if we did it Nov. 1,” when the state next begins insurance enrollment, said Randall Kirner, chairman of the state Public Employees Benefits Board.

The domestic partner bill extends rights similar to those held by married couples — including community property and debt, and the right to seek financial support after a breakup — to co-habitating couples of the same and opposite sex who register with the secretary of state’s office. The bill becomes law on Oct. 1.

The law doesn’t require employers to provide insurance coverage to employees’ partners, but the state benefits board agreed two weeks ago to extend health coverage to domestic partners.

The Faculty Alliance of Nevada’s university system, which has pushed for the benefits, agreed that the delay is needed, said Jim Richardson, head of the alliance.

Some officials voiced concern that the state would be vulnerable to lawsuits if it doesn’t begin offering the benefits immediately after the law takes effect.

Richardson, however, said a “rational judge” would dismiss such suits.

Leslie Johnstone, executive director of the insurance system, said the benefits will be cost-neutral to the state because it will not provide a subsidy for the coverage of domestic partners or their children. It’s unclear how many people will sign up for the benefit, she said.

One actuarial estimate is that 2.7 percent of Nevada households are domestic partnerships, Johnstone said, but there is no estimate on how many of those households would seek state insurance coverage.

The state insurance system, which covers employees of the state, higher education system and some local governments, typically begins enrollment on July 1. This year’s enrollment was postponed until November because of uncertainty over how the Legislature would alter the program.

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