Plan to provide health insurance OK'd by panel

The Assembly Commerce and Labor Committee Wednesday approved an innovative plan designed to draw millions of dollars in new federal funding to help pay health insurance costs for small business employees, pregnant women and the indigent.

Assembly Majority Leader Barbara Buckley, D-Las Vegas, said AB493 uses the money Nevada and its counties already put into indigent medical services to match federal Health Insurance Flexibility and Accountability funding Nevada is currently not able to claim.

"There is approximately $91 million unclaimed federal dollars that we will lose to other states if we don't take advantage of it," she told the rest of the committee.

She said the state can use its money for 35 percent of total costs in the program and claim 65 percent in federal funds.

"What the bill does is take a couple of funds now available to counties to pay for catastrophic care and combine them," she said. That plus some property tax revenues would, she said, "enable the capture of federal funds that heretofore have gone lost."

The money would be used in three areas where statistics show a large number of uninsured Nevadans. First is pregnant women who don't have coverage. An estimated 2,500 would qualify each year. Providing prenatal care could save money by reducing complications.

Second, she said, is the indigent medically needy who now show up for major medical services in emergency rooms. Third, she said, would be to subsidize medical health coverage for employees of small businesses which can't currently afford to provide workers with health coverage. That would be all businesses with more than two but less than 50 workers and apply to workers who make less than 200 percent of the poverty level.

The program proposed in AB493 would provide those workers a subsidy of up to $100 a month to help them and their employers afford health insurance.

Assembly Minority Leader Lynn Hettrick, R-Gardnerville, said he supports the goal of the plan but was concerned that if the federal government decides to end the HIFA program in five years, the state not be committed to pick up the millions it would cost to replace federal funding.

Buckley and other supporters assured him the state could pull out if the federal program ended. But she said federal officials and Congress are supportive.

Mike Alastuey, representing University Medical Center, and Jack Kim, representing health insurance providers in the state, said their organizations worked with Buckley to develop the plan. Alastuey said it would increase the effect of the state and local contributions. Business representatives said they too support the plan.

State Human Resources director Mike Willden said his department and the governor's office also support the proposal as an excellent chance to improve health insurance coverage for Nevadans who now have little or no services.

On Hettrick's motion, the committee voted unanimously to send AB493 to the Assembly for a vote.

n Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at or 687-8750.


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