Nevada Sets Up Surcharge For Unvaccinated State Workers Who Need to Be Routinely Tested

Nevada set up a surcharge for unvaccinated state workers, who need to be routinely tested, and are enrolled in public employee health insurance plans. It is the first state to do so.

On Thursday, the state Public Employees' Benefits Program Board voted to charge unvaccinated workers up to $55 per month. The money will be used to offset the cost of testing, as some are required to do so at certain workplaces, according to The Associated Press. The surcharge will go into effect for state workers and adult dependents in July 2022.

"This is pandemic has been shouldered on the burden of everyone. And now this particular burden — the testing — should be shouldered on the burden of those who refuse to (be vaccinated)," said DuAne Young, Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak's policy director.

Laura Rich, the benefits program's executive director, said the surcharge is akin to a smoking premium. She said it would help with around $18 million in annual testing costs. Administrators had to decide how much tax dollars should pay for the medical costs of unvaccinated individuals due to the thousands of workers who refuse to vaccinate.

"PEBP is largely a taxpayer-funded plan outside of employee premiums," she said. "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 also mentioned that surcharges have been given to unvaccinated employees enrolled in other public sector plans, such as workers at the Dallas Fort Worth International Airport.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Nevada, Unvaccinated Surcharge, State Workers
Unvaccinated state workers and adult dependants will have to pay a surcharge of up to $55 per month in their public health employee insurance plans if they don't get vaccinated by July 2022. In this photo, Concentra registered nurse Deysi Fleix administers a Moderna COVID-19 vaccination to an Amazon employee at an Amazon fulfillment center on March 31, 2021 in North Las Vegas, Nevada. Ethan Miller/Getty Images

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

In Nevada workplaces where less than 70 percent of employees have gotten shots, employees are required to be tested weekly to prevent the spread of the virus. Although President Joe Biden's workplace mandates face court challenges, if they go into effect, all unvaccinated workers will have to submit to weekly testing — a development that would significantly increase the state's costs.

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

The surcharge presented liberal-leaning labor unions with a dilemma. It pit a policy intended to encourage vaccination against increasing healthcare costs for workers — a longtime centerpiece of their advocacy. Labor lobbyists from the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and the Nevada Faculty Alliance testified in neutral about the surcharge proposal.

Tom Verducci, a board member who represents state workers' deferred compensation plans, voted against the surcharge and said opposed the idea of imposing additional costs on workers regardless of the reason.

"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. The state hopes that incentives and penalties like the surcharge will convince more people to get vaccinated, Rich said.

State Workers, Nevada, Unvaccinated Surcharge
COVID-related claims filed by state workers were on track to amount to over $6 billion in 2021. The proposed surcharge for unvaccinated workers would help to offset some of these costs in the upcoming year. In this photo, a health worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine at a Covid-19 vaccination site at the University of Nevada in Las Vegas on March 15, 2021. Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images