An 'equity issue'

Observers of the Legislature have long marveled at the ability of rural and Northern Nevada lawmakers to steamroll their more numerous Southern Nevada counterparts in Carson City.

It happened again on Monday.

In a vote split along geographical lines, a joint Senate and Assembly money committee approved changes to the Public Employee Benefits Program that include forcing Las Vegas-area state employees to subsidize the health insurance premiums of their counterparts across the rest of the state.

This is a bad deal that Southern Nevada lawmakers must rectify at the first opportunity.

Until now, state employee HMO members in rural and Northern Nevada paid higher premiums than those in Southern Nevada because there are fewer doctors and other medical providers offering service in those areas.

But under the new budget, HMO health insurance rates will be uniform across the state.

"It's not the fault of the state employees that we're in a place where we can't get a better deal," said Assembly Speaker Pro Tempore Debbie Smith, D-Sparks.

But it isn't about "fault," it's simply a reflection of reality. How is it fair to mandate that a Henderson DMV worker subsidize the health insurance of a state transportation employee who chooses to live in remote Austin or Wells?

Officials with the benefits plan also argued that the difference in premiums was an "equity issue" because insurance pools inherently involve various groups subsidizing others.

That's true, to a point. But it's common for rates to vary in those pools based on relevant factors. According to the Premium Index, Las Vegans pay almost 27 percent more for auto insurance than the average rate in Nevada as a whole.

We eagerly await legislation from Ms. Smith and her northern cohorts that would force auto insurance companies to address this disparity by spreading the cost of doing business in Las Vegas to drivers in the rest of the state.

After all, it's an "equity issue."