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. Judge tosses life sentences for D.C. sniper Lee Boyd Malvo


    McLEAN, Va. — A federal judge on Friday tossed out two life sentences for one of Virginia's most notorious criminals, sniper Lee Boyd Malvo, and ordered Virginia courts to hold new sentencing hearings.

    A federal judge has tossed out two life sentences for D.C. sniper shooter Lee Boyd Malvo. [Associated Press, 2004]
  2. Zbigniew Brzezinski, President Carter's national security adviser, dies


    Zbigniew Brzezinski, the hawkish strategic theorist who was national security adviser to President Jimmy Carter in the tumultuous years of the Iran hostage crisis and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in the late 1970s, died on Friday at a hospital in Virginia. He was 89.

    Zbigniew Brzezinski, former national security adviser to President Jimmy Carter, participates in Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Capitol Hill on March 5, 2009, in Washington, D.C. [Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images]
  3. USF eliminated by UCF in AAC baseball; Florida, FSU, Miami win


    CLEARWATER — Roughly 16 hours after a ninth-inning collapse against East Carolina in the American Athletic Conference's double-elimination baseball tournament, USF returned to Spectrum Field presumably set for a reboot.

    It simply got booted instead.

    ’NOLES win: Tyler Holton gets a hug from Drew Carlton after his strong eight innings help Florida State beat Louisville.
  4. Pinellas licensing board executive director settled hundreds of cases without getting his board's approval

    Local Government

    By Mark Puente

    Times Staff Writer

    Eleanor Morrison complained to the Pinellas licensing board in 2015 that her contractor installed crooked walls and windows and poured too much concrete for her carport.

    Eleanor Morrison poses at her home in Treasure Island, 5/26/17. Morrison filed a complaint with the Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board and later learned that its former Executive Director, Rodney Fischer, dismissed the case in a private meeting with the contractor.
  5. Report: Kusher wanted secret communications channel with Kremlin


    Jared Kushner and Russia's ambassador to Washington discussed the possibility of setting up a secret and secure communications channel between Donald Trump's transition team and the Kremlin, using Russian diplomatic facilities in an apparent move to shield their pre-inauguration discussions from monitoring, U.S. …

    The name of Jared Kushner, President Donald Trump's White House senior adviser, has come up as part of the Russia investigation. [Associated Press]