LAS VEGAS -- Higher costs and less in return. It's the economic reality today but it's also the state of the health care system for public employees and retirees. The state budget shortfall is now trickling down to premiums and benefits for thousands of workers in Nevada and they are seeing major changes.
More than 43,000 state workers and teachers are facing paying more money than they thought. When the budget crunch started rolling downhill, some of those state workers retired early, giving up some guarantees, in order to preserve what they knew would be taken away with the cuts.
The I-Team first met Bart Boulton two years ago during his final days of teaching. He was one of the teachers who left their passionate career during the last round of changes. Now, he sifts silt out of pool filters at a business owned by his son.
"I mean, I work cleaning pools. Trust me, I don't want to be doing that," said Boulton.
In 2008, the cutbacks forced an ultimatum for many workers. They could retire early and maintain a high level of support from the Public Employee Benefits Program, PEBP's.
New changes to PEBP means changing expectations are all he has left.
"All the promises for affordable, state employee health care for retirees are up in the air right now."
PEBP is more than $100 million short and that means drastic changes. Yearly deductibles for individuals are nearly tripling from $800 to $2,000. Families are going from $1,600 to $4,000. It also means the elimination of dental and vision leaving only basic cleanings and exams covered. Life insurance benefits have been cut in half.
"The employees and the retirees are going to have to pick up all of the inflationary costs that the plan incurs," said Jim Wells a member of the PEBP's board.
Wells says without the cuts in benefits, premiums could have had a five-fold increase. "We had to make some difficult choices," he said.
But Boulton still feels slighted. "We're not asking for free anything. We're asking for affordable health care."
He left the job he loved to keep benefits that now are being taken away.
"I think teachers are really good about taking one for the team. They always have taken one for the team," said Boulton.
The board understands there could be some other legislative changes coming in February during the session. That could further alter the payouts and premiums for all state workers. These changes go into effect July 2011.