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State benefits plan rates to decrease

by Geoff Dornan

Fewer claims over the past nine months – especially major health benefit claims – mean the Public Employee Benefits Program will be able to lower premiums July 1.

“We have seen a significant decrease in the number and size of our large claims,” said Executive Director Woody Thorne.

Rapidly rising costs last year forced the plan, which serves state workers and a large number of other governmental employees around the state, to raise rates and cut benefits to public employees. Those wanting a $500 deductible instead of $1,000 or $2,500 were billed $14.36 a month – the first time single state employees had to augment the state contribution on their behalf.

Ronnie Thierman, who works for the program consulting firm, said effective July 1, the premium charge will drop to $4.53 a month.

And single state employees aren’t the only plan members who will see a benefit.

“We managed to either keep it level or reduce premiums for most categories,” said Thorne.

Retirees 65 and older with a spouse will see their premium rate drop by more than half from $178 to $78 a month.

Early retirees with a spouse and Medicare retirees should have been increased somewhat, according to Thorne.

“But the board used a little of the surplus to hold them steady,” he said.

Those insuring a family will see rates go from $157 to $138 and those ensuring themselves and their spouse will pay $120.

Thierman said reductions in the cost of claims allowed the system to actually build a $25 million surplus this year.

Thorne said the combination of that and the increase in the state’s per-employee contribution effective July 1 enabled the public employee board to reduce premiums for most types of plan members. The state’s monthly contribution rises $62 a month to $558 a month in July.

Thorne said there were no real changes in the plan design this year because the board and his staff want to leave the existing system in place a couple of years to better evaluate how it is working.

For Northern Nevada plan members, he said they will also have the option of an HMO instead of just a PPO beginning in July.

“We finally got responses to our bid after three years of trying,” he said.

Anthem Blue has been signed as the northern HMO and Thorne said he expects about 4,000 employees and their family members will move to that plan.

Thorne said the primary difference is that, usually, HMO’s offer “richer coverage” and lower out of pocket expense for the employee. The trade off is that the employee has to work through a managed-care system in which their primary-care physician acts as gatekeeper between patient and specialists and other services.

Thorne said non-state employees and retirees in the public employee benefit pool also got a break this year because their claims experience improved substantially. Their rates too will drop.

Contact Geoff Dornan at nevadaappeal@sbcglobal.net or 687-8750.