Faltering Teachers Health Trust concerns members, providers

George Chamberlin fears the worst.

The Chaparral High School government teacher has been consumed by worry ever since a statement about the Teachers Health Trust — not meant for his ears nor that of 17,000 other teachers and their families — was leaked two weeks ago.

John Vellardita, executive director of the Clark County Education Association, said in a private meeting that the union-created trust, which provides health coverage to 34,000 people, is hemorrhaging money and will be “belly up in 60 to 90 days.”

Knowing a patient is ultimately responsible for the bill, Chamberlin immediately called the trust to see whether it had paid for his $100,000 back surgery from December.

A trust staffer said the checks were “pending” and would be paid.

But he fears the prospect of nonpayment, which also prompted at least one local doctor to adopt a new policy: Avoid taking any expensive work from teachers or their dependents.

“Providers with a brain think, ‘I’m going to get burned,’u2009” said the doctor who has worked more than 20 years in the Las Vegas Valley and has seen other trusts go bankrupt, leaving him with thousands of dollars in unpaid bills. “What did I do? I ate it.”

Sending bills to collections on patients rarely works, but some providers do it, said the doctor who wished to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation.

It rarely comes to bankruptcy and collections with normal insurance companies, which are regulated by the Nevada Division of Insurance. The division would have stepped in “long before it even got to this point” if the trust were a traditional insurance provider, said Jake Sunderland of the Nevada Division of Insurance. But, under the law, the division can’t regulate trusts.

But both the trust and union since have claimed the news of imminent bankruptcy couldn’t “be further from the truth,” according to mass emails sent to teachers after a Feb. 2 Review-Journal article about Vellardita’s statement. In those same emails though, the union didn’t deny Vellardita’s statement, or address it at all and also said the trust’s “financial situation” requires an increase to premiums paid by teachers through paycheck deductions, which the Clark County School District must authorize.

Trust and union officials blamed the trust’s financial problems on the district for not approving an increase in teachers’ premiums in a decade, though medical costs have greatly increased.

However, the union didn’t request such an increase during negotiations either this or last school year when costs exceeded revenue by $14 million, according to district officials and trust CEO Peter Alpert.

In recent years, Alpert also called multiple years without premium increases a “positive step,” according to his statement to teachers in the trust’s quarterly newsletter.

“Sure, it puts us in a bad situation,” said Alpert on Monday in reference to the trust losing millions of dollars a year since 2010 because claims have exceeded revenue and exhausted cash reserves.

He asserted the trust can survive for more than six to nine months without a premium increase, but it may have to start liquidating its $27.7 million in investments. That would be the trust’s last and only resort at this point because cash reserves are nearly exhausted, according to trust audits.

Chamberlin is astonished he is only being told now of the troubles facing his trust.

“As far as I’m concerned, it’s criminal,” Chamberlin said.

Usually, insurance companies are required by state law to have a certain amount of money on hand and operate in the black, or risk being taken over. But self-funded plans — like the trust — don’t have to follow these laws and are out of the division’s control, Sunderland said.

Even worse for the 34,000 people covered by the trust, the state can’t protect them from doctors seeking unpaid claims, as it would if an insurance company went under.

Normal insurance companies have their own insurance in case of failure. They pay into the Nevada Guarantee Fund, which the state can draw from if a defunct insurance company can’t pay its debt after being liquidated, Sunderland said. The fund operates much as the FDIC covers banks.

But the trust can’t use the fund because it doesn’t pay into it, meaning teachers are responsible for every cent.

If the state division had the authority, it could have taken over the trust, putting it into “conservatorship” should premiums continually fail to cover claims, Sunderland said.

That started in 2010-11 for the trust, paying $5.45 million more in claims than the $144.6 million it received in revenue, according to its audits. The next year, claims exceeded contributions by
$3.89 million. The trust is in the hole nearly $1 million for the first six months of this year, Vellardita said two weeks ago.

The division would have also been checking the trust’s quarterly reports to make sure it had sufficient cash reserves, Sunderland said.

Those reserves had dwindled from $7.23 million in the 2009-10 school year to $547,000 as of June 30.

“Even now, there is largely nothing we can do for them (teachers),” said Sunderland, noting that when an insurance company is beyond recovery, the division will liquidate it to cover as much debt as possible and move customers to a new plan.

Since the division can’t offer that to teachers, the district is having “preliminary discussions” with the insurer of its 1,200 administrators, UnitedHealthcare, in case the trust fails, district spokeswoman Amanda Fulkerson said.

“Our first priority is ensuring teachers will be covered, period,” she said, noting that the district will also approach UnitedHealthcare about covering unpaid claims that the trust may leave behind.

When the trust covering district support staff went bankrupt a decade ago, it left $8 million in debt. The district put those workers under Sierra Healthcare, which agreed to pay off a portion of the claims, Fulkerson said.

Ever vigilant about his own $100,000 claim, Chamberlin called the trust Monday and was told a check was issued to University Medical Center on Feb. 5 for its $72,000 portion of the claim. The trust also owes $28,000 to his doctor. But that payment was still pending Monday, and UMC hadn’t received its check yet.

All he can do is wait and see.

Contact reporter Trevon Milliard at tmilliard@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0279.

Bicyclist suffers major head trauma in hit-and-run
A bicyclist was hospitalized with life-threatening injuries after a Thursday morning hit-and-run crash near the school formerly known as Agassi Prep. Police said the bicyclist was hit by a white SUV, which fled the scene. The injured man suffered multiple injuries including major head trauma. As of 9 a.m., Lake Mead remained closed between Martin Luther King and Revere Street while police investigate.
Las Vegas artist Dave Dave dies at 42
Dave Dave talks about his art and his life in 2016. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Dave Dave, whose dad set him on fire in 1983, dies
Dave Dave, a respected Las Vegas artist who was badly scarred as a boy when his father tried to burn him to death in Southern California, died at Sunrise Hospital on July 15. He was 42. When he was 6, Dave's father tried to kill him by setting him on fire. He was given a sleeping pill and his bed at a Buena Park, California, motel was doused with kerosene. “I remembered being in a lot of pain,” Dave told the Review-Journal in 2016. “When stuff happens to you at that young of an age, you tend to block it out, but I remember the pain was excruciating.” Dave, who was born David Rothenberg, became close friends with Michael Jackson, who met him after the attack, which burned more than 90 percent of his body. “I wanted to meet him, and he wanted to meet me, and that just turned into a lifelong relationship that never ended,” Dave said. “It was amazing being friends with Michael Jackson. He was an amazing person.” Dave attended ArtCenter College of Design in Pasadena, California, and collaborated with various artists around Las Vegas, eventually selling his art to private collectors. Despite his challenges, he continued to live, thrive and create. Dave Dave
Homicide detectives investigate woman's death
Las Vegas police were called to Tahiti Village Resort early Wednesday after calls that someone had been shot. Police found a woman’s body between a parking garage and boiler room on the resort's property. A guest first reported hearing gunfire. There are no witnesses, but police will examine surveillance videos and look for clues. The woman was not identified, but a purse was found near the body. She did not appear to be a guest at the resort.
LVMPD Discusses Ross Dress for Less Shooting
LVMPD Assistant Sheriff Charles Hank discussed the 15th officer-involved shooting of the year at a press conference at Metro headquarters on Tuesday, Aug. 14. The active-shooter incident took place at the Ross Dress for Less store at the 4000 block Blue Diamond Road in the south Las Vegas Valley. (Madelyn Reese/ Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Metro Asst. Sheriff Brett Zimmerman on Aug. 8 officer-involved shooting
Metropolitan Police Department Assistant Sheriff Brett Zimmerman met with media Monday to discuss the details of the 14th officer-involved shooting of the year. (Madelyn Reese/ Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Clark County School Board president Deanna Wright on travel expenses
Clark County School Board President Deanna Wright says she followed proper expense protocol in trip to Florida last year.
Matt Kelly Elementary School hosted its third annual Back-to-School Red Carpet Program
Matt Kelly Elementary School hosted its third annual Back-to-School Red Carpet Program where community and business leaders joined to welcome students back with an inspirational welcome. Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal @bizutesfaye
Shooting leaves 1 dead in southeast valley
A man was found fatally shot in the doorway of a squatter apartment after an argument ended in gunfire on Sunday night. Officers responded about 10:30 p.m. to the Silver Pines apartments and discovered the man in a breezeway in one of the buildings. The wounded man died at the scene, despite the efforts of another person, who tried to administer medical aid. Witnesses saw a man and a woman flee the scene, but were unable to give police a clear description.
North Las Vegas unveils new school crosswalk
North Las Vegas councilman Isaac Barron talks about the new school crosswalk in front of CP Squires Elementary School Monday, August 6, 2018. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
LVMPD Briefing on OIS #13
Assistant Sheriff Tim Kelly held a press conference to discuss details of the 13th officer-involved-shoot for the department in 2018. Video shows the moments before the suspect was shot. The shooting, which has been edited out, occurred as the suspect lunged at an officer outside the apartment. (Madelyn Reese/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Sedan and semitrailer collide in south Las Vegas
An early Wednesday morning crash has left one person in critical condition. A sedan and semitrailer collided around 4 a.m. at the corner of Spencer Street and Serene Avenue. Police do not believe impairment is a factor in the crash. Spencer has been blocked off north of Serene while police continue their investigation.
Cybersecurity Professionals Flock to Las Vegas for Black Hat
Black Hat USA, the largest annual cybersecurity conference, is expecting a record 17,000 attendees during its six-day run at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center this week. One thing attendees have in mind is making sure they don't get hacked while they're there. (Madelyn Reese/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Police chase ends with suspects captured in east Las Vegas
An early Tuesday morning chase ended with a car crash in an east Las Vegas neighborhood. Police were pursuing the vehicle, which they say was involved in robberies in Las Vegas and North Las Vegas, when the driver crashed at Owens and Statz Street. A man was taken into custody. A woman was ejected from a vehicle and taken to a hospital with non-life threatening injuries. The intersection at Mojave Road and Owens Avenue was shut down while police officers searched for the suspect and investigated. The intersection will remain closed for most of the morning.
Record number participate in Touro University Nevada White Coat Ceremony
Three hundred sixty-five medical students received their white coats during the Touro University Nevada White Coat Ceremony at the M Resort in Henderson Monday. The ceremony was developed to honor students in osteopathic medicine, physician assistant studies, nursing, occupational therapy and physical therapy as they accept the professional responsibilities inherent in their relationship with patients. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Stop for school buses, urges CCSD
Clark County School District Police Department hold a mock traffic stop at Centennial High School in Las Vegas, Monday, Aug. 6, 2018. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
Work Begins at Las Vegas Community Healing Garden
Crews moved the wooden Remembrance Wall at the Las Vegas Community Healing Garden on South Casino Center Boulevard Monday. Construction on a permanent wall is set to begin within the week. (Madelyn Reese/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @MadelynGReese
Man wounded outside Cottages apartment
Las Vegas police don't have a motive after a man was shot early Monday morning outside a northwest valley apartment. The man's mother called police to say her son had been shot. She called police around 1:15 a.m. Other people were inside the apartment but no one else was injured. Police are still looking for the shooter.
Ride new Interstate 11 segment in one minute
Interstate 11 opens to the public Thursday, providing sweeping views of Lake Mead, art deco-style bridges and a mural illustrating the construction of Hoover Dam. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Miss El Tiempo 2019
Miss Teen El Tiempo and Miss El Tiempo 2019 were crowned at Sam's Town Saturday, August 4, 2018. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
Las Vegas Woman Raises Awareness for Anxiety and Depression
Cassi Davis was diagnosed with anxiety and depression after the birth of her second child. After seeking help and support, she felt that there wasn't enough for support for those living day in and day out for those with mood disorders. She created the Crush Run, set for Sept. 22, to raise money for the Anxiety and Depression Association of America and bring together a community of people who live with the same conditions she does. (Madelyn Reese/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
North Las Vegas marks the opening of Tropical Parkway connector
The City of North Las Vegas, Nevada Department of Transportation and other partners celebrated the opening of the Tropical Parkway connector to Interstate 15 and the Las Vegas Beltway. The stretch of road will make access easier for distribution centers for Amazon, Sephora and other companies moving into an 1,100-acre industrial area rising near the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Bighorn sheep with West Temple in background at Zion National Park
A bighorn sheep walks through Zion National Park (National Park Service)
Adult Superstore location closes after 45 years
The Adult Superstore on Main Street has closed its doors for good after 45 years. The shop, which offered a multitude of adult toys, novelty items and movies, opened in 1973. Four other locations remain open. A note on the front door tells customers, “We can’t fully express our sorrow.” Adult Superstore was awarded Best of Las Vegas adult store by the Review-Journal in 2016 and 2017 .
Funeral held for Las Vegas corrections officer
Department of Public Safety Correctional Officer Kyle Eng died July 19 after a fight with an inmate at the Las Vegas Jail. A funeral was held for Eng at Canyon Ridge Christian Church Monday, July 30, 2018. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
What Back-To-School Shopping Is Like For a CCSD Parent and Teacher
Laura LeBowsky, a CCSD special education teacher and mother of two, set out to shop for her children's supply lists at her local Walmart and Target. She was looking for deals to try to keep the total under $150, while also allowing Chloe, 8, and Brady, 6, some choice in what they wanted. (Madelyn Reese/ Las Vegas Review-Journal) @MadelynGReese
Businesses struggle to fill food manufacturing jobs
Chelten House is a family-owned food manufacturing company from New Jersey. They created a facility in Vegas five years ago and have struggled to find experienced workers in the area. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
LeBron heckler crosses line, altercation erupts
NBA superstar LeBron James, his wife, Savannah, and daughter Zhuri were at Liberty High School to watch Bronny James in action Wednesday night. But an unruly fan wearing a Michael Jordan Chicago Bulls jersey heckled the newest Los Angeles Laker. The man screamed at event security with LeBron and his family about 150 feet away. The man had to be restrained, triggering a brief altercation with security. James and his family were escorted out a side door along with Bronny's team, the North Coast Blue Chips. Event officials canceled the game between the Blue Chips and Nike Meanstreets.
Las Vegas Oddities Shop in Downtown Las Vegas
Las Vegas Oddities shop owner Vanessa VanAlstyne describes what's for sale in one of the weirder and wackier stores in Downtown Las Vegas. The store opened less than a year ago and carries everything from human bones to "rogue" taxidermy to Victorian death photography. (Madelyn Reese/ Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Trying to Staying Cool in the Las Vegas Heat
Cooling stations like Cambridge Recreation Center's opened across the Las Vegas Valley this week after the National Weather Service issued an excessive heat warning for the area. (Madelyn Reese/ Las Vegas Review-Journal)
News Headlines
Add Event
Home Front Page Footer Listing
You May Like

You May Like