Merger won't harm Nevada consumers

To the editor:

Like the nearly 3,000 employees of Sierra Health Services and UnitedHealth Group here in Nevada, I was disappointed to read Erin Neff's column on Aug. 30 regarding the Nevada Department of Insurance approving the merger between these two companies.

Both United and Sierra support the ruling issued last week by state Insurance Commissioner Alice Molasky-Arman. We know the commissioner and her staff -- who have earned the respect of parties on all sides of this issue -- deliberated long and hard before issuing this decision.

We also look forward to meeting the many conditions the commissioner included in her order approving this transaction. In fact, as Ms. Neff suggested, we volunteered to comply with all these conditions because they put in writing what we have committed to do all along.

These commitments include our guarantee that the premiums our members pay will not increase as a direct result of this transaction. Because we recognize the value that a local health care company can provide a community such as Las Vegas, we will make good on our commitment to build upon Sierra's strong legacy and improve access to affordable health care for Nevada consumers and employers. We are more than happy to commit ourselves to not only maintaining, but increasing, Sierra's ongoing contributions to local charities and community organizations and other good works that built its reputation as a leading corporate citizen in Nevada.

Nevada consumers and employers will continue to choose from a wide range of products and providers in this fast-growing marketplace. The state's population of more than 2.4 million is expected to grow another 4 percent in 2007 -- and to double again over the next 25 years, according to Census Bureau estimates -- driving more demand and more intense competition for health care services.

The competitive nature of bidding for insurance products, and the ability of our customers to switch plans and carriers at regular intervals, will naturally keep pricing at competitive levels after the merger.

Contrary to claims from a few union and medical industry groups, United and Sierra currently account for only 28 percent of commercial health insurance sold in Nevada. In Las Vegas, our combined share will be about 35 percent. And we'll have less than 12 percent of the commercial health insurance market in Northern Nevada.

It's true that when our two companies are combined, we will cover nearly all of the Medicare Advantage members in Southern Nevada. But what Ms. Neff and these critics fail to mention is that United and Sierra are currently the only two companies that have made the commitment to offer this highly regulated health care coverage here. What's more, all Medicare Advantage members enroll voluntarily. Of all Nevadans eligible for Medicare, only 33 percent are covered by Medicare Advantage.

I sincerely wish that Ms. Neff had taken the time to call me or someone at Sierra Health Services so that we could have informed her of these facts.

Paul R. Davis



Energy woes

To the editor:

I appreciate Doug Nusbaum's comment on how "little" he pays for his electrical bill monthly (Wednesday letter to the editor). Bills vary around the valley and some homes are more energy efficient than others (especially newer ones).

However, I think Mr. Nusbaum missed the point of the earlier letters: the ever-rising rates of Nevada Power (due to a lack of competition) and the inability of individuals on fixed incomes or low incomes to deal with these rate increases, some of which are a result of bad decision-making on Nevada Power's part.

Most individuals who look at the power bills from last year to this year will see that they are paying up to 50 percent more for using the same amount of energy. For some individuals on lower income or fixed incomes, this is not manageable.

The question: What has Nevada Power done internally to recover some of this money?

I worked for private companies in the past which, when they did not do well financially, froze salaries for up to three or four years and cut other internal budgets.

Is Nevada Power doing this or just passing along the cost of bad decisions to the consumers, some of whom cannot buy newer, more efficient homes, newer, more efficient air units or sustain a 90-degree house, especially if they are elderly?

R. Gill