Lawmakers ax PEBP wellness program

Employees who have complained repeatedly about the wellness program in their benefits package got their wish Tuesday when lawmakers voted to kill it, effective in fiscal year 2015.

They might not, however, like that eliminating the program will add $50 a month to their premium costs beginning that year.

State workers get a $50-a-month credit for participating in the program, which neatly offsets the $45-a-month premium they would otherwise have to pay, Public Employee Benefits Program Director Jim Wells said.

PEBP officials say some people want the $50-a-month credit, but they don’t want to do any of the things the wellness program requires to get it. Wells said the biggest objection seems to be the self-survey of the person’s lifestyle habits and health which many seem to view as an invasion of privacy.

With wellness program participation approaching 40 percent this enrollment cycle, Wells said, eliminating the program will cost about 12,000 active state workers that credit.

Eliminating the program frees up $9.25 million for lawmakers to spend elsewhere. While Assemblyman Randy Kirner, R-Reno, indicated he might try push that money to help the so-called orphans — non-state retirees in the state plan who are being severely affected by rising rates — Speaker Marilyn Kirkpatrick, D-North Las Vegas, has other ideas.

She has said several times that savings within the PEBP plan should stay there to benefit state workers who have been hard hit by plan reductions and cuts over the past five years.

“We’re going to put it back to them in another way,” Kirkpatrick said after the hearing. “We’ll put it back to them in their regular rates.”

Kirkpatrick has said on more than one occasion that savings generated within PEBP by lower-than-expected inflation and rates should stay there to benefit state workers. That is a direct reference to the $25 million in PEBP and Medicaid case-load savings Gov. Brian Sandoval pulled out to fatten all-day kindergarten and English-language-learner programs in an April budget amendment.

“It all belongs to those folks,” she said, referring to state workers.

Lawmakers wanted to eliminate the wellness program now but were advised by fiscal staff that, because employees are currently in open enrollment for the 2014 plan year, making any changes to that year would cause enormous problems.

Beyond ending the wellness program, Wells said, members of the Assembly Ways and Means and Senate Finance committees approved the PEBP budget largely as recommended by the board and governor.

That includes raising Medicare retiree subsidies from $10 a month now to $13 through this biennium, doubling the amount the state contributes to Health Savings Accounts and making other changes that Wells said reduce employees’ out-of-pocket costs in the high-deductible plan from $1,900 to about $500 before benefits kick in.

The total revised funding from the state to support PEBP through the coming biennium is $920.1 million.

The issue of how to handle the non-state retirees who are being hit with huge increases in premiums because there are no active employees in their experience pool will be dealt with at a hearing Thursday.


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