The ailing health-benefits fund | NevadaAppeal.com

The ailing health-benefits fund

Nevada Appeal editorial board

State employees have been given a reprieve, but they can’t feel too good about the future of their health insurance benefits.

The bill signed Tuesday by Gov. Kenny Guinn allocates $18 million to the Public Employees Benefits Program and means state employees won’t have to pay a steep increase in premiums.

Not this time around, anyway.

But the state benefits program has been a steady source of concern, not to mention downright consternation under previous administrators, so an emergency infusion to keep it alive isn’t exactly comforting.

The shortfall in the fund is being blamed on higher-than-expected claims and expenses, according to Guinn, including 22 liver transplant operations in less than two years.

An optimist would say that as those unexpected expenses come down, the fund will eventually find itself in better shape. A pessimist, however, would simply wonder what the next excuse for the shaky status of the fund is going to be.

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The governor and lawmakers should be applauded for taking action to hold off increases in premiums. This is a top-priority issue among state employees, and their well-being has to remain a high priority for the Guinn administration. The next step must be a firm resolution to the Public Employees Benefits Program by the next legislative session.

In the meantime, though, Nevada taxpayers will be wondering just how long and for how much they will continue to bail out the fund.

The $18 million emergency allocation to the employee-benefits program will simply add to the state’s projected general-fund deficit of $175 million. That’s a bigger problem.

The dilemma lawmakers will be facing in this instance — and nearly every other state budget — is whether state employees will see some of their benefits cut, or taxes will be raised, or both.