The first state to charge state workers enrolled in public employee health insurance plans a surcharge if they aren’t vaccinated will be Nevada.

Charging unvaccinated workers up to $55 per month was voted by the state Public Employees’ Benefit Program Board, all in order to offset the costs of testing those who haven’t gotten shots are required to undergo in certain workplaces.

DuAne Young, Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak’s policy director said that this pandemic has been shouldered on the burden of everyone and that now this particular burden, the testing, should be shouldered on the burden of those who refuse to be vaccinated.

Public sector plans have covered all coronavirus-related testing and treatment for state workers since the start of the pandemic. And when vaccines became widely available, many other plans stopped completely covering testing, but insurance plans for state workers have continued to pay for it in entirety.

A little under 70% of employees have gotten shots in Nevada workplaces and, to prevent the spread of the virus, employees are required to be tested on a weekly basis. It is still not clear whether President Joe Biden’s workplace mandates will go into effect, as they face court challenges. But if they do, it will mean that all unvaccinated workers will have to submit to weekly testing, a development that would significantly increase the state’s costs.

By charging state workers and their dependents aged 18 and older, the plans will help offset the cost of testing people who refuse to be vaccinated. In 2021 coronavirus-related claims filed by state workers were on track to surpass $6 billion.

The benefit program’s executive officer, Laura Rich compared the premium to a smoking surcharge and said it would help underwrite roughly $18 million in annual testing costs. And as there are plenty of unvaccinated workers, she said administrators had to decide the extent to which tax dollars should pay for the medical costs of those who chose not to get vaccinated.

“PEBP is largely a taxpayer-funded plan outside of employee premiums. Since we do not have the ability to adjust the state subsidy portion outside of a legislative session, we have no choice but to look at other options,” Rich said.

A board member who represents state workers’ deferred compensation plans, Tom Verducci voted against the surcharge saying that, regardless of the reason, he doesn’t like the idea of imposing additional costs on workers.

“State employees have been hit very hard with no raises over a number of years. And I think of the soul out in the Lovelock working for the Department of Corrections, paid $800 a month in a trailer with three kids. I have a hard time with this one,” he said.

Nevada estimates roughly 5,000 state workers and 1,250 employees of the Nevada System of Higher Education are unvaccinated.

Surcharges for state workers and adult dependents on their plans will go into effect in July 2022.

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