According to findings from the UNLV Health Benefits Survey, most UNLV employees cannot afford basic health care.
Vice president for Finance and Business Gerry Bomotti, who also serves as chair of the Nevada System of Higher Education’s Public Employees Benefits Program Task Force, said that rising premiums and deductibles are not relative to salary levels, making it virtually impossible for the majority of faculty and staff to afford fundamental health services.
“Most of our employees within the Nevada System of Higher Education earn less than $50,000 annually,” Bomotti said.
The survey, which sought to gauge opinions on health care and Public Employee Benefit Program (PEBP) customer service and plan options, was conducted by the UNLV Faculty Senate Administrative Faculty and Fiscal Affairs committees and the UNLV Classified Staff Council.
It was administered through UNLV’s online survey tool and launched on Nov. 21 and concluded a week later.
Nearly one-third of UNLV employees took part in the survey and garnered a total of 872 respondents.
NSHE faculty and staff are offered two options for health coverage through the state — Health Maintenance Organization (HMO) or Preferred Provider Plans (PPO) — and must choose between them or opt out altogether.
3.2 percent of respondents declined any health coverage from PEBP.
Chancellor Dan Klaich organized the NSHE PEBP Task Force in 2010 as a way to facilitate drastic legislative changes to PEBP, which included stark rises in premiums and deductibles of the program’s HMO and PPO sectors.
For individuals participating in the HMO, premiums increased by 112 percent, while families saw an increase of 63 percent.
Individual PPO participants saw annual deductibles rise from $800 to $1,900, and $1,600 to $3,800 for families.
Changes took effect on July 1.
At least 60.8 percent of respondents said they have chosen not to fill prescriptions prescribed by their doctors since changes to PEBP was enacted because they were unable to handle the costs.
Shaun Franklin-Sewell, who is the director of Marketing and Patron Services for the UNLV Performing Arts Center and serves as chair of the Administrative Faculty committee in the Faculty Senate, recognized the hardship the current health options bring.
“Many people are having to pay for their medications out-of-pocket to the tune of thousands of dollars,” he said.
Survey results also indicated at least 42 percent of respondents have switched to generic prescriptions against the advice of their doctors. At least 60 percent have delayed filling their prescriptions while 46.8 percent have tried to make their prescriptions last longer than prescribed.
Additionally, 28.8 percent of HMO participants reported difficulty in finding a primary care provider and 44.8 percent expressed a hard time getting an appointment with their doctor.
Many said they found it difficult to gain a referral to see a specialist.
Franklin-Sewell said that PEBP recently refused to consider a proposed middle-tier plan that would have restored some of the benefits present prior to July 1.
Bomotti said that he believes the current health care plan has hindered the ability of UNLV to hold on to and hire employees.
“It’s a very big problem, we think, for retaining and recruiting faculty and staff here to the Nevada System of Higher Education,” he said. “UNLV specifically.”
UNLV currently has more than 100 open faculty and staff positions, but many posts were left vacant to cut costs during the university’s 2007-2011 budget crisis.
Anyone hired after Jan. 1 will not receive retirement subsidies toward health care coverage.
The NSHE PEBP Task Force will meet this week to discuss both short-term and long-term goals for repairing health coverage for faculty and staff. Bomotti said the group hopes to soon implement “supplemental programs” to help some employees who are struggling financially.
“Health care is the highest priority we have,” Bomotti said.
Health care for NSHE employees is unusual when compared to higher education systems nationally.
“Most institutions of higher education can make their own decisions on what health care programs to participate in,” Bomotti said. “In Nevada, it’s really a take-it-or-leave-it type situation.”
Bomotti said that it is possible that NSHE health care coverage may become independent from the state, with authority transferred to the board of regents, but no such change would be seen until July 2014 at the earliest.
Fantasi Pridgon reports on health issues for The Rebel Yell. Contact her at [email protected]
The Rebel Yell’s faculty and staff reporter, Julie Ann Formoso, contributed to this story. Contact her at [email protected]