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Study of Nevada health insurance under scrutiny

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RENO, Nev. (AP) — Officials have challenged a recent study on state employee health insurance benefits, contending Nevada workers pay a much smaller share of their premiums — and much closer to the national average — than the report suggests.

The study's authors acknowledged Thursday at least some of the criticism is founded, and as a result they have launched a review of the Nevada data and the methodology that was used.

The study released on Tuesday by The Pew Charitable Trusts and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation indicated Nevada is one of 11 states where employees covered at least one-fourth of the cost of their premium last year — 26 percent by a Nevada worker and 74 percent by the state. The average among all states is 16 percent for an employee, the report stated.

James Wells, executive officer of Nevada's Public Employees Benefits Program, said the state's own data shows state employees cover about 18 percent of their premiums. He said the underlying problem with the Nevada numbers in the study was that in some cases the figures were based on what would be expected in specific situations based on national averages.

"Our program here is significantly different," Wells said.

Wells said Nevada is different than most states because employees cannot obtain coverage for their spouse if the spouse is ensured by another employer-based plan.

"The tiers with spouses covered here are generally quite a bit lower versus what you would see nationally because of that," he said. "The study has Nevada employees plus spouse paying 15 percent (of the premium), but ours is really only 10 percent. And for employees plus family, they had us at 23 percent when it is actually 13 percent."

Wells started questioning some of the data on Tuesday when The Associated Press first shared with him a copy of the report. On Wednesday, he wrote a detailed response to trust officials about their calculations and asked them to review the information.

"I don't think any of it was done intentionally," Wells told the AP. "But it would have been nice if we had a chance to at least review the information before it was distributed."

Kil Huh, Pew's director of state and local fiscal health based in Washington D.C,, said study authors will revisit the weighting of various factors used to estimate the portion of premiums Nevada employees cover.

"We think after initially looking at what Nevada has shared, it is going to be lower than the 26 percent contribution we stated," Huh said, adding that no other states have reported problems with the data.

Maria Schiff, director of the trust's State Health Care Spending Project, said the original data was based on statistics in the Milliman Atlas of Public Employer Health Plans.

"In our communication with Milliman, they reviewed the way they assigned Nevada state employees to various plans Nevada offers. They recognized an error they made in terms of assigning employees" to specific plans, she said.

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