Lawmakers looking for long-term fix to state benefits plan | NevadaAppeal.com
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Lawmakers looking for long-term fix to state benefits plan

The chairwoman of the legislative study committee says it’s time to consider putting all public employees under one health benefits plan.

Chris Giunchigliani, D-Las Vegas, is head of the committee studying the trouble-plagued state Public Employee Benefits Program.

“We should be looking toward a long-term solution for health care,” she said during the committee’s first meeting.

And she said that should include serious consideration of whether all public employees should be “under one umbrella.”

The state benefits plan has required two multi-million dollar cash infusions from the state in the past five years – a total of more than $40 million – to keep it solvent.

While PEBP is now on the road to fiscal recovery, according to director Woody Thorne, it did so this past legislative session with its second large infusion of state cash — in the form of a $100 plus monthly increase in what the state contributes per employee. And the plan was extensively rewritten with increased co-pay amounts and reduced benefits for workers and their families.

At the same time, lawmakers ordered local governments to allow their retirees to exit the state program and return to local benefit programs — many of which have been dumping their retirees on the state plan since 1986. Local governments say that will have a heavy fiscal impact on their existing plans.

State workers complain they don’t get near as good a benefits package as some of those local government workers. Some — including a group of more than 300 highway patrol and other public safety workers — want to bail out of the state plan an join the Teamsters International benefits program.

Giunchigliani, a former school teacher who now works for the university system, said the experts all say combining all public workers in Nevada into one plan would make for a much larger pool and give the plan much better bargaining power with health benefits providers. The existing plan has nearly 30,000 members. Bringing together all public workers in the state would increase that to more than 100,000.

“It’s time we recognize we are all taxpayer funded employees and we ought to be looking at how to do it the best,” she said.

She said that includes looking not only at the concept of combining all public employees under one plan but other options — even privatizing the plan if that turns out to be the best way to get employees a good benefits package.

“We need to look at what’s good for employees,” she said.

She compared the idea to the Public Employees Retirement System which provides retirement benefits for nearly all public employees in the state.