State employees enrolled in public employee health care plans in Nevada will be charged up to $55 per month if they are not vaccinated.
The state’s Public Employees Benefit Program Board voted Thursday to charge unvaccinated workers up to $55 a month to offset the costs of testing those who didn’t get shots required to submit at certain workplaces.
“This is a pandemic that has been carried on the shoulders of everyone. Now this specific burden — testing — must be borne by those who refuse (vaccination),,” said Duane Young, Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak’s director of policy.
Additional fees for state employees and adult dependents on their plans will take effect in July 2022.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, public sector plans have covered all testing related to the coronavirus and treatment of state employees. Although many other plans stopped covering testing entirely when vaccines became widely available, insurance plans for state employees continued to pay for them in full.
In workplaces in Nevada where less than 70% of employees have had vaccinations, employees are required to take a weekly test to prevent the spread of the virus. Although President Joe Biden’s workplace mandates face judicial challenges, if they go into effect, all unvaccinated workers will have to undergo weekly testing — a development that would dramatically increase state costs.
Officials said coronavirus-related claims by state employees are on track to exceed $6 billion in 2021. By charging state employees and their dependents 18 or older, the plans will help offset the cost of testing people who refuse to be vaccinated.
Some public sector plans — including for those at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport — have charged additional fees to non-immune employees, said Laura Rich, executive director of the benefits program, but that to her knowledge, Nevada will be the first state to impose a system-wide surcharge on public servant plans.
She compared the premium to an additional smoking fee, and said it would help secure nearly $18 million in annual testing costs. With thousands of unvaccinated workers, she said, officials must decide how much tax money should pay for the medical costs of those who choose not to be vaccinated.
“PEBP is largely a taxpayer-funded plan outside of employee premiums,” she said. “Since we do not have the ability to adjust the portion of government support outside the legislative session, we have no choice but to consider other options.”
Tom Verducci, a board member representing state employee deferred compensation plans, voted against the surcharges and said he was against the idea of charging workers extra costs no matter what.
“State employees have been hit hard without salary increases over a number of years. I think of the spirit working for Lovelock at the Department of Corrections, who paid $800 a month in a trailer with three kids,” he said.
The state of Nevada estimates that about 5,000 government workers and 1,250 employees in the Nevada higher education system are not immunized. Rich said the state hopes that incentives and penalties such as additional fees will convince more people to get vaccinated.
Metz is a member of the Associated Press/America News Initiative Report. Report for America is a national nonprofit service program that puts journalists in local newsrooms to report confidential issues.