TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Charlie Crist announced Thursday that he will barnstorm Florida to spread the word about his Cover Florida affordable health insurance plan because "people are hurting."
"We need to do everything that we can to help the people in a time of need," Crist said.
Well, perhaps not everything.
Despite the tight budget year, Crist said he has no plans to change state workers' health insurance plans, which are heavily subsidized by taxpayers. About 26,111 state workers pay no premiums at all. They include nearly all of Crist's office staff, the 160 legislators and 1,800 legislative employees.
"People who work in government typically don't make as much as many in the private sector, and it's one of the benefits that can maybe keep such talented people here," said Crist, who boasted that the Cover Florida health plans cost taxpayers no money at all.
Taxpayers would save $44 million if lawmakers made those with fully subsidized plans pay the $180 monthly premiums that most state workers pay.
Lawmakers are grappling with a projected $5.5 billion budget deficit next fiscal year.
Crist's budget proposes a $13 million increase in taxpayer spending to keep state workers from paying more for health insurance.
The state worker premium is slightly higher than the average $155 premiums offered through the Cover Florida plan to provide health insurance to the uninsured. Lt. Gov. Jeff Kottkamp pointed out that the Cover Florida premiums are far less than the $750 that some people are paying in private insurance plans.
Crist and Kottkamp are touting the plans this week in Miami, Tampa, Daytona Beach, Pensacola and Panama City.
Under the Cover Florida plans, recipients can choose two general types of coverage — catastrophic and preventive. The more a customer pays, the more benefits are included, such as screenings, office visits, surgery, urgent care, durable medical equipment and diabetic supplies.
"Cover Florida is not a bare-bones, one-size-fits-all insurance plan. Rather, people choose what works for their health care and their family," Crist said.
Crist also announced that about 76,000 people have saved about $2.3 million on prescriptions by using a discount drug card that can be obtained at www.floridadiscountdrugcard.com. Average savings: $30 a person.
Crist said he didn't know how many of the estimated 4 million uninsured Floridians have signed up for Cover Florida. He said the number of participants will be computed March 15.
"I know people are hurting," Crist said. "People can't sign up for this if they don't know it exists."
Marc Caputo can be reached at mcaputo@MiamiHerald.com.