Las Vegas Sun

July 29, 2014

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Board extends coverage to domestic partners of state employees

CARSON CITY – By a 5-3 vote, the board that governs the state health insurance system has agreed to extend coverage to domestic partners of government and university system employees.

It will be a pay-as-you go system, meaning the coverage for the domestic partners will have to be paid fully by those covered without any subsidy and without costing the system any money.

The Public Employees’ Benefits Program Board did not set the rates or a start-up date. That will be decided later.

The 2009 Legislature approved a domestic partners bill giving them the rights enjoyed by married couples. The legislation left it up to public and private groups whether they wanted to provide such coverage.

The program suggested it needed $3.7 million a year to cover domestic partners in the state health plan. But the Legislature didn’t provide funding.

The Nevada System of Higher Education pushed for the state to open the door to cover the domestic partners of state and local governments and the university system. It offered a plan under which the premium for the domestic partner would be picked up in whole.

Jim Richardson, representing the university system and the faculty alliance, suggested the premium be $760 a month to cover a domestic partner, either of the same or opposite sex. That’s the premium charged the spouse of a state worker, but the Legislature provides a subsidy.

Richardson said other university systems provide coverage for domestic partners.

Carol Lucy, president of Western Nevada College, said the school has positions to fill and it is competing with other systems. She said it puts the college “at a competitive disadvantage not to offer it,” referring to the domestic partner coverage.

Board Chairman Randall Kirner said Gov. Jim Gibbons believes the decision whether the coverage should be offered should be made by the Legislature, not the board. Gibbons vetoed the domestic partners bill but his veto was overridden by the Legislature.

Board member Julie Teska said it was “the worst possible time to add benefits.”

Teska said the Legislature had two opportunities to send a clear message on what it wanted. It could have included a $3.7 million annual appropriation in the budget or it could have mandated the coverage in the domestic partnership bill. “They took a pass,” she said.

But board member Jacque Ewing-Taylor said there probably would not be a lot of people signing up for the coverage.

Timothy Nimmer, senior vice president for AON, the actuary for the system, also said he did not believe there would be a lot of people joining the system.

If there was a major claim from someone in this group, he said the rates would have to increase greatly in the future to cover that cost. Or if the experience is good, than the rates could be lowered.

Voting against extending coverage were Teska, George Campbell and Van Mouradian.

The domestic partnership law goes into effect Oct. 1. Richardson suggested the coverage for domestic partners could begin Nov. 1. But Leslie Johnstone, executive director of PEPB, said it may be more practical to start in July 2010 to allow more time to work out the details such as the rates.

The board set the rates for 43,000 employees and retirees already covered for the next plan year that begins Nov. 1. The Legislature allocated a subsidy of $626 per month per employee and $317 for a retiree.

Jon Hager, chief financial officer for the program, said the employee under the new system will pay $34 a month, up from $28. And employees with spouse will pay $232, up 10 percent from the present cost.

Hager said a retiree will pay 10 percent more to $198 a month and a retiree with spouse will see the premium increase from $583 to $631.

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