Nevada on Thursday became the first U.S. state to impose an additional pay for workers who have not received the COVID-19 vaccine, although the penalty will not take effect until mid-next year.
All but two members of the Public Employees Benefits Program (PEBP) Council voted during the meeting to approve a $ 55 monthly bonus for unvaccinated workers.
The approved proposal also provides an additional $ 175 per month for spouses, partners, and dependents of employees 18 years of age and older. This could be fixed in the future.
The surcharges will come into effect on July 1, 2022.
They will help offset the costs of testing COVID-19, according to Laura Rich, executive director of the board of directors.
The cost of testing until September is estimated at $ 3.3 million.
The board did not analyze the cost of hospitalizations due to COVID-19 for the proposal because that would make the co-payment for spouses and dependents “significantly higher,” Rich said. Government regulations prohibit the increase in the allowance for workers.
The Nevada Department of Labor released guidance last month that said the co-payments were legal, and Rich compared them to the smoker’s allowances imposed by plans in the past.
Exceptions are possible for religious or medical reasons, as required by law.
Public commentators during the meeting and those who submitted written applications opposed the proposal prior to the vote.
“I believe the proposed premium is inappropriate and excessive,” public spokeswoman Ellen Creselius said in a statement. She noted that many people have natural immunities or the protection they receive after recovering from COVID-19.
Shanna Cobb-Adams said she was already paying $ 255.06 a month. The new allowances will increase this by 90 percent. She expressed concern about vaccinating her 18-year-old son when studies showed that young men are at increased risk of developing heart inflammation after vaccination, while COVID-19 poses a small risk to healthy young people without major underlying medical conditions.
Another commenter noted that Gov. Steve Sisolak, a Democrat, forces workers to get tested weekly if they don’t get the vaccine. “Unvaccinated individuals should not pay for unfair agency decisions,” she wrote. “The fact is that vaccinated and unvaccinated employees can get infected and spread the virus equally, but the state has decided to unfairly impose difficulties only on unvaccinated employees.”
Some members also expressed opposition to the proposal and two voted against.
Several state residents supported the move, including one who said that “anti-vax companies have to pay for their choice, since their freedom is not free.”
Sisolaka’s director of policy, DuEn Yang, said the pandemic “took everyone on the shoulders.”
“And now that particular burden – testing – should be shifted to those who refuse (to be vaccinated),” Young added.
Some companies have introduced premiums, but none of the states did until Thursday.
Discussions with organizations that imposed the fines pointed to benefits such as increasing the percentage of workers vaccinated and offsetting rising costs, Rich said. If the board does not approve the allowances, she said, it will be necessary to increase the allowance for each worker, regardless of vaccination status.
The allowance income is expected to be around $ 18 million per year. The cost of testing is estimated to range from $ 12 million to $ 24 million.
Before the vote, representatives from the American Federation of State, District and Municipal Employees and the Nevada Teachers’ Alliance said that unions were not taking a position on the proposal.
Terry Laird, Nevada’s retired government employee, said the organization is also neutral on allowances.
But the additional costs “will burden many employees,” she said.