Benefits committee reduces increases to just 7.23 percent

The State Employee Benefits Committee Friday approved plan changes that will increase the cost of health benefits for retirees and dependents of state workers by 7.23 percent.

That is a third of the 22 percent increase proposed at their August meeting in Las Vegas.

The same increase will be applied to non-state employees in the plan.

Benefits Manager Woody Thorne said the major changes are in the pharmaceutical program. They voted to remove three major store chains from the list of stores where plan members can get prescriptions. Taking Von's, Safeway and RightAid off the list will save the state $400,000 a year by concentrating the business and, therefore, the available discounts, at other stores, said Thorne.

They also moved from Merck-Medco to CatalystRx to operate the prescription drug plan for the state, saving $724,000 a year. And they added a third tier to the co-pay plan charging more for expensive brand name drugs while reducing the co-pay for generics and normal brand name drugs to $5 from $9.

But brand name drug co-pays will rise from $18 to $22 and the new third tier of expensive drugs for which there is a cheaper brand name alternative will carry a $40 co-pay.

Thorne said there are no changes in the medical plan.

But he said the dental deductible was changed from a $100 lifetime deductible to an annual deductible of $50 and coverage will cut back from the 90th percentile of what dentists charge for a given service to the 80th percentile - increasing the amount the worker must pay.

Thorne said those and other changes will save the state plan about $1.5 million a month, making the 22 percent increase proposed a month ago unnecessary.

Even with the changes, Thorne said they didn't dip into the plan's reserve which remains at about $18 million.

The increases apply for state worker dependent coverage and for retirees. The state covers the entire cost for the individual worker.

The increase was approved before a packed house of more than 300 state workers in Carson City and large crowds watching by telconference in Las Vegas and Reno as well. Even though the increase was much less than the original proposal, many of those state workers complained that the state plan should be providing greater benefits for lower premiums and pointed to local governments in Nevada as an example. They said the plan has been steadily eroded over the years.

Committee Chairman David Smith pointed out that some of those local governments put up to double the amount of money per employee into their plans that the state provides. He said the state committee has to provide the best plan it can for the amount of money available.

"We're not legislators. We can't allocate more money to the plan," fellow committee member Jim Pettis added.


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