Assembly Committee hears employee benefits bill

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Employee groups told lawmakers Wednesday they support combining all the groups into one pool under the Public Employee Benefits Program.

That would dramatically reduce the amount non-state retirees who join the system must pay for health benefits.

But those representing state employees said that support is conditioned on the legislature finding some money to make sure the change doesn't cost state workers more money.

AB286, which would "commingle" the state and non-state worker groups into one risk pool, was presented Wednesday to the Assembly Government Affairs Committee. The committee heard testimony, but took no action.

Jim Richardson, representing university employees within the system, said the bill will relieve the hardship on non-state workers -- particularly retirees. "You must understand all this does is pass those rates on to other people," he said.

Board Director Woody Thorne said Nevada would have to kick in about $5 million to prevent state workers from having to shoulder part of the financial burden of taking those other employees into their benefits pool.

"It would have the effect of increasing total rates for active and non-active state employees by about 3.5 percent," he said.

"And I wholeheartedly support the idea of the interim study,"Thorne said about a proposal now being prepared to study a variety of major changes in the program including a requirment that future nonstate workers joining the benefits plan upon retirement be subsidized by their former employers.

He said the study should look at the possible benefits of combining all public workers in Nevada under one plan.

He said covering all public workers in a single plan may mean better benefits at a more reasonable cost because of the number of people in it.

Because they are rated separately for their risk factors, the much-smaller pool of non-state retirees has been hit hard with premium increases. Each individual must now pay $711 a month for coverage. Retired Clark County school teacher Gene Gerrard told the committee that compares with the $218 a month he paid when he retired in 1998. He said he and his wife, also a retired teacher, pay more than $17,000 a year for health benefits.


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