About five state workers expected to seek domestic partners benefits

The fight over whether Nevada should provide benefits for domestic partners of state employees consumed hours of study and debate over more than two years within the Public Employee Benefits Program, the Legislature and the governor's office.

At one point, Gov. Jim Gibbons cited PEBP's approval of benefits for domestic partners as a key reason for not reappointing two members who voted for it.

But when all the smoke cleared, actuarial consultants told the PEBP Board of Directors Thursday they expect only about five people to actually apply for the benefits.

"It's going to be a fairly small enrollment, given the cost," said Justin Kindy of AON Consulting.

He said the company reached that conclusion after reviewing other public and private clients who offer coverage to domestic partners.

The current premium for an employee and spouse at PEBP is $1,341 a month. Of that total, the employee and spouse have to cover just $232 since both the employee and spouse receive subsidies of more than $560. Without that subsidy, the cost to cover the spouse would be $794 a month.

Kindy said the problem for those seeking domestic partner coverage will be the cost, because neither the Nevada Legislature nor the governor included any funding to help subsidize that coverage.

Kindy and AON's Tim Nimmer told the PEBP board they would recommend pricing coverage for domestic partners at least 50 percent higher than the employee-spouse premium.

That would push the monthly premium for a domestic partner to almost $1,200.

They said anyone willing to pay that kind of price is "likely going to be high users of the plan."

He predicted those individuals would be domestic partners with serious health problems and would cost the plan significantly more money than most members.

Board Chairman Randall Kirner said the low number was "surprising to me." He said it's ironic given the huge amount of "consternation" the proposal to cover domestic partners caused.

The domestic partnership coverage was originally proposed by representatives from the university system who described it as a recruiting tool that many other higher education systems have adopted. It will allow unmarried partners of state workers - both same sex and opposite sex - to receive health benefits from the state plan. Original estimates were that it would cost $2.7 million a year.

PEBP Executive Office Leslie Johnstone said the details of how the domestic partnership coverage will work will be ironed out in the board's October and November meetings.

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