Wednesday, May 23, 2018
Politics

Florida leaders who will decide Medicaid expansion get bargain on insurance

TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Rick Scott and state legislators will soon decide whether Florida should extend health insurance coverage to nearly 1 million residents, and those officials all get their plans from the state, many paying less than state workers.

Scott, as well as the three other Republican members of the Cabinet, and nearly all state lawmakers are enrolled in Florida's health insurance plan. For Scott, the cost to cover him and his wife is less than $400 a year. A total of 107 out of 120 members of the Florida House pay the same or less for coverage.

The 40 members of the Florida Senate also are covered by the state, but this month they started paying the same as rank-and-file career service employees under a proposal pushed by Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart. Career service workers pay $50 a month for individual coverage and $180 a month for family coverage.

"The people who work here at night and clean our offices are valuable people," said Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville. "We shouldn't be paying less for our health insurance while they are paying more."

Scott and legislative leaders will decide over the next few months whether the state implements key portions of the Affordable Care Act.

One of the biggest decisions will be whether to expand Medicaid coverage to roughly 900,000 Floridians who are just above the poverty line. Florida has one of the highest uninsured rates in the nation, according to U.S. census data. But Scott, a vocal critic of the federal legislation, has raised questions about the potential cost of the Medicaid expansion.

House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, echoed the governor and said he's not sure the federal government will keep its promise to pick up most of the share of Medicaid expansion.

Another key decision related to the Affordable Care Act will be whether the state revamps its own health insurance program to start spending money to cover part-time employees. The state would have to pay a $300 million penalty if it does not cover these workers. Florida already spends $1.9 billion to cover roughly 170,000 state workers, university employees and retirees. Most of the money comes from taxpayers, not premiums paid by employees.

Scott, who has turned down a salary while serving as governor, has defended the decision to enroll in the state insurance plan by noting that it's the same coverage offered to roughly 24,000 state employees in management positions. He has recommended that all state employees pay the same.

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