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High cost of faculty health care heads toward resolution 

Board to vote on privatizing medical plans

Time is running out for a decision that could lead to faculty and staff running to education jobs outside of Nevada.

An increase in health costs in 2011 has been a controversial topic among faculty members, yet discussions as recent as March have left the issue unresolved.

Most faculty and staff members have health care coverage under the state agency, Nevada Public Employees’ Benefits Program. An official proposal to move PEBP to the private sector could lead to cheaper health costs, but so far no agreement has been reached.

In 2011, faculty and staff saw their health costs more than double, leaving many of them unable to pay for prescription drugs. The cost surge along with drastic salary cuts led to 123 UNLV faculty and staff resignations between 2011 and 2012, according to a Freedom of Information Act request.

Since the increase, faculty have fought vigorously to find a solution to their health care struggles, one being PEBP offering health care coverage through the private sector instead of the state. PEBP has until May to move forward with the proposal before faculty and staff will have to renew their health plan and be stuck with high costs for another year.

A task force in charge of bridging the gap between PEBP and its participants has urged the agency to seek a quote from private insurance companies. They argue that doing so would prove if health costs are cheaper in the private market.

“Our health programs are ones we believe are impacting our recruitment and retention of our [faculty and staff],” said Gerry Bomotti, a leading advocate in changing PEBP’s health care model. “We need some change to the status quo in [my] opinion.”

But PEBP board members decided not to take action on the proposal during their March 21 meeting, concerned that the transition would be too drastic, according to Bomotti. About two years ago, Medicare-eligible participants in PEBP were moved to a plan offered through the private sector, which initially led to some discontent. But over time, the change led to cheaper costs and happier PEBP customers, Bomotti said.

Now, the task force wants to do the same for all PEBP participants. Bomotti reasoned that going to the market to compare health care costs would not harm anyone.

“Our thought is there is no down side for PEBP for gathering that information,” he said. “You always want to know if you can get a better deal.”

John Farley, UNLV’s chapter president for the Nevada Faculty Alliance, the voice of faculty and staff statewide, has some reservations about the model, but maintained that a solution must be sought.

“Normally, I’m pretty suspicious about privatization … [because] the private market wants to make a profit,” Farley said. “But I’m willing to look at it. The current plan is not very good.”

Bomotti said that action needs to be taken soon or faculty and staff will have to bear the burden of overbearing health care costs once again.

“Having an ability to choose is an important factor,” he said. “I’m hopeful that PEBP, during their main meeting, will direct their staff to move forward.”

The PEBP board will meet on May 16 to decide on the proposal. PEBP participants will have to renew their health plan in July 2014.

Christopher Cochran, the UNLV representative on the PEBP board, could not be reached for comment in time for publication.

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