Benefit trims

As early as next month, the board that oversees Nevada's Public Employees Benefit Program could double the deductible for family coverage, eliminate lab coverage at hospitals for certain procedures, or eliminate coverage for spouses or domestic partners who have other employer coverage -- all as administrators look to close a projected $100 million two-year funding shortfall. Changes to vision and dental benefits are also under discussion.

The state subsidizes premiums for employees at 84.8 percent and for retirees and dependents at 57 percent. It has 74,000 enrollees and an annual budget of more than $500 million.

But budget officials project the amount the state will contribute the next two fiscal years will be flat, while medical prices are expected to rise 11 percent to 12 percent per year, creating a shortfall of $90 million to $100 million for the biennium.

No one should be gleeful to see any workers or retirees forced to dig into their savings or cut back on their lifestyles as they receive lesser coverage -- or find themselves paying more for it -- than they expected.

On the other hand, the shortfalls in tax revenue are real, and are caused by lessening revenues and a falling living standard in the private sector economy on which government depends. Shrieking that taxpayers must be squeezed harder so that the ruling class remains unaffected would be neither wise nor realistic.

The price must now be paid for ignoring those who urged spending moderation during the boom times.

The Democrats in Washington say help is on the way -- government rationing will hold down costs starting in 2014. Pardon our skepticism, but we're expected to believe the erection of vast new "entitlements," enforced by new, unionized government "health" bureaucracies -- complete with 16,000 new IRS agents to collect all the required new taxes -- are somehow going to "save us money"?

A start at a solution, here, is for the Legislature to revise promised benefits at least for newly hired state workers, requiring them to pay their own group premiums, while placing their retirement funds in a defined-contribution plans more like familiar 401(k)s. No one could complain this "goes back on the deal" -- we're talking about new hires.

Tax-free medical savings plans could also be beefed up. And certainly all regulations, state and federal, should be reviewed to make sure they offer no disincentive to doctors and hospitals offering lower rates to those who pay cash.