Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Health insurance premiums to rise for Hillsborough County employees

TAMPA — Hillsborough County government workers are weathering unprecedented job cuts, pay freezes and unpaid furloughs.

All of that should sound familiar to many workers in the private sector.

Now another hallmark of government employment that used to include job security and steady annual pay raises is going away: low-cost health insurance.

A pair of decisions by county commissioners in the past year mean county employees will have to start paying if they want to keep their Cadillac-style health insurance. Otherwise, they'll be forced into coverage that offers lower premiums but also makes employees pay a greater share of their initial health expenses for the year.

"We've been very lucky as employees to have the type of coverage we've had," said Hillsborough County management services administrator Eric Johnson. "Now, if they want to continue to have that high-end benefit package, they're going to have to pay a significant amount of money to retain it."

Those with family coverage would be hit the hardest, under a rate plan headed to commissioners for approval Wednesday. They'll see their monthly premiums nearly double to $457 this year.

Single employees will see their premiums climb from $156 to $239.

County employees receive a $210 monthly stipend of sorts, known as a cafeteria benefit, that can be applied to health insurance premium costs. In the past, that has more than taken care of premium costs for singles and covered most of the premium for employees with families, giving them free or nearly free insurance.

The new rate structure means many county employees will have to pay out of pocket to meet their premium for the first time.

County employees at the lower end of the pay scale will suddenly face a large new expense that could present a challenge for many as their wages stagnate or fall.

Next year, health costs likely will go up while commissioners face pressure to keep salaries flat in order to balance the budget.

"I'm disgusted by it," said commission Chairman Ken Hagan, who was on the losing side of a key board decision driving a good chunk of the cost increase. "Our employees are going to get nailed at the worst possible time."

Earlier this year, commissioners decided that the county would not increase the share of employee health costs covered by taxpayers — close to $50 million. But it's a second, more hotly debated decision by commissioners this fall that has Hagan miffed.

The county had sought new bids for a health insurance provider. By a 4-3 vote, the board rejected an initial offer from insurer Cigna that would have lowered the cost increase to county employees.

Hillsborough government is currently self-insured, meaning it pays the costs of health care claims. It pays insurer Humana to process those claims.

Cigna had offered a fully insured plan in which it would accept the risk of health care claims. Its offer was $11 million less over the next two years than what staying with Humana and a self-insured program is expected to cost.

Commissioners overlooked the recommendation of an employee advisory group and two separate consultants in voting to stick with Humana. Commissioners Jim Norman, Al Higginbotham, Kevin Beckner and Kevin White were on the winning side, with each offering different reasons for their decision.

Norman cited bad experiences with Cigna when it was the county's insurer previously. Beckner argued the merits of staying self-insured and unknown cost increases in the third year of the contract.

Higginbotham said it's simply time employees started paying a greater share of health costs. The new Humana plan gives employees a new choice of lower upfront premiums in exchange for deductibles, some of them steep depending on the option chosen.

"We've kept them rates artificially low for some time," Higginbotham said. "At some point, you've got to be realistic about what costs are."

Bill Varian can be reached at or (813) 226-3387.

.Fast facts

County workers' health insurance

Current plan

Single: $156 monthly.

Employee plus family: $245.

$210 monthly "cafeteria" benefit can be applied to offset the cost for singles, and nearly pay for family plans.

Cigna's proposal

Single: $200 monthly.

Employee plus family: $398.

$210 cafeteria benefit still applies, covering cost for singles.

New Humana plan before commissioners Wednesday (comparable coverage)

Single: $239 monthly.

Employee plus family: $457.

$210 cafeteria benefit brings cost to $29 monthly (single) or $247 (family plan).

Highlights: $15 co-pay for primary care, $25 for specialists, $150 per day for hospital stays. $2,000 max out of pocket for singles, $4,000 for families.

Employees also can now opt for one of two alternative plans.

Source: Hillsborough County Human Resources

Health insurance premiums to rise for Hillsborough County employees 11/28/09 [Last modified: Saturday, November 28, 2009 11:51pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Tampa heading into several tough budget years

    Local Government

    TAMPA — Less pain now, more pain later.

    The Tampa City Council will hold a final public hearing on the proposed 2018 city budget and property tax rate at 5 p.m. Thursday on the third floor of Old City Hall, 315 E Kennedy Blvd.
  2. The Daystarter: Rick vs. Rick 2.0 tonight; Bucs' McCoy says some fans cross line; Trump associate to testify; helicopter crashes onto Odessa roof


    Catching you up on overnight happenings, and what you need to know today.


    Rescuers respond to a crash of a small helicopter on the roof of a home in the Odessa area on Monday. [Hillsborough County Fire Rescue]
  3. No toll lanes north of downtown Tampa in three of four interstate proposals


    TAMPA — Express lanes may not be coming to downtown Tampa after all. Or at least not to the stretch of Interstate 275 that goes north through Bearss Avenue.

    Seminole Heights resident Kimberly Overman discusses the new interstate options with V.M. Ybor resident Chris Vela (left), Hillsborough County Commissioner Pat Kemp and HNTB consultant Chloe Coney during a Tampa Bay Express meeting Monday night at the Barrymore Hotel. [CAITLIN JOHNSTON  |  Times]
  4. Trump associate Roger Stone to talk to House panel in Russia probe


    WASHINGTON — The House intelligence panel will interview two of President Donald Trump's associates behind closed doors this week as congressional committees step up their investigations into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

    Roger Stone talks to reporters outside a courtroom in New York this past March. The House intelligence panel will interview Stone behind closed doors Tuesday as congressional committees step up their investigations into Russian meddling in the 2016 election. Fformer Trump staffer Boris Epshteyn also will talk to the House panel. [Associated Press]
  5. Pinellas commission set to discuss next budget, licensing board

    Local Government

    CLEARWATER –– The Pinellas County Commission will be busy on Tuesday.