Plan aims to lower number of uninsured Nevadans |

Plan aims to lower number of uninsured Nevadans

Associated Press Writer

A $15 million-per-year plan that would lower the number of uninsured Nevadans by about 12,000 – a cut of just 3 percent – was pushed Monday by Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley.

AB168 would boost health care coverage for low-income pregnant women and children, and expand a subsidy program for employees of small businesses.

Buckley, D-Las Vegas, told the Assembly Health and Human Services committee the bill would help improve the state’s “dismal” rate of uninsured and help cut costs of emergency room care provided to people who don’t have health insurance.

Nevada has an estimated 400,000 to 450,000 people without health insurance, about 18 percent of the state’s population, said Michael Willden, director of the Department of Health and Human Services. About 100,000 of the uninsured are children.

AB168 would make a small dent in the uninsured total, by expanding health care to about 1,000 pregnant women, 5,000 employees of small businesses and, with matching federal funds, more than 6,200 children.

Dr. Max Jackson, chief medical officer for Renown Medical Center in Reno, testified in favor of the bill, saying that giving pregnant women access to prenatal care reduces medical costs in the long run.

“If you invest in pregnancy and delivery, the outcome is a healthier child,” Jackson said, adding that children born with complications can cost $500,000 to $1 million to treat.

Robert Gomez, chairman of the Latin Chamber of Commerce in Las Vegas, said the bill will help small businesses retain qualified workers and compete against larger businesses that often provide health care coverage. AB168 provides a $100 subsidy to employees of small businesses to help them purchase such policies.

A measure passed by lawmakers in 2005 provided that subsidy for workers with children through federal matching funds. This bill expands the subsidy for those without children.

Assemblywoman Sheila Leslie, D-Reno, also backed AB168, saying at a news conference prior to the committee hearing that Nevada’s per capita rate of uninsured makes it the seventh worst state in the nation.

Leslie also urged approval of AB146, which would require the Department of Health and Human Services to set up a Web site and phone services to give Nevadans information on hospital costs and quality.