Amodei leads benefits program attack

Carson City Sen. Mark Amodei on Wednesday charged that the Public Employee Benefits Program isn't keeping its members informed as their health costs spiral skyward and is failing to control those costs.

"I'm having a hard time coming to grips with $512 a month for vision, dental and prescription drugs," he told the program's executive director, Woody Thorne.

He said he has gotten numerous calls from state workers and retirees saying they discovered the increases in their monthly rates only when their checks got smaller in July, the start of the new fiscal year.

Thorne said the benefits program sends every member a packet explaining changes and increases in the plan every May and holds workshops to tell members about those changes and answer any questions before the plan year begins in July.

He said the $512 total rate doesn't just cover vision, dental and prescription drugs, but also catastrophic coverage which he described as the core of what the program provides.

Medicare, he said, doesn't cover catastrophic health conditions.

But Amodei said Public Employee Benefits Program isn't getting the word out to people who depend on the plan for health insurance and many of those who called his office don't believe they have catastrophic coverage.

Thorne said they do and that his staff is making a better effort to get the word out.

He added that part of the problem is that many people don't read the documentation or attend workshops.

"We can provide as much information as possible, but we can't make them read it," he said.

Assembly Majority Leader Barbara Buckley, D-Las Vegas, said the Legislature "is not satisfied" with how PEBP is handling the concerns of its insured members.

"We all continue to get flooded with concerns for the last couple of sessions," she said. "It doesn't seem to get better, so if you think you're doing an admirable job, we're in trouble."

Assemblyman Tom Grady, R-Yerington, said he dropped the state program for a private insurer. He said he now gets about the same coverage for half the price the state charges.

Thorne presented data showing the state is picking up more of total costs this year than in the past. He said the employer share of total plan costs increased from a bit over 50 percent to 58.6 percent from 2004 to 2005 while the share participants pay dropped from over 49 percent to just over 41 percent.

Lawmakers made numerous changes to the plan during the 2005 session, primarily to ease the pressure on Medicare-eligible retirees who saw huge increases the year before. But Thorne said those types of changes have impacts that spread through all the classes covered by PEBP and some others, as a result, received increases.

Amodei, a Republican, said he wants a report from PEBP at the next commission meeting detailing what constitutes excess reserves. He said he wants an update on the plan's financial status and a history of the amounts and uses of those reserves as well as other information.

n Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at or 687-8750.


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