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HealthPlan Services says it will add 1,000 jobs in Tampa over five years

Published Sep. 19, 2013

TAMPA — Florida Gov. Rick Scott, who last year called the federal health care law the "biggest job-killer ever," was front and center Wednesday to celebrate a health care company's announcement that it will add 1,000 jobs thanks to — yes — the health care law.

HealthPlan Services, a Tampa company that helps small companies and individuals purchase and manage health insurance policies, said it plans to add more than 1,000 jobs over five years to its Tampa headquarters near the Florida State Fairgrounds.

Company CEO Jeffrey Bak said the expansion would "probably not" be occurring without the health care law, a cornerstone of which requires most people to purchase health insurance.

"Our business is so heavily focused on the individual market," Bak said. "There's going to be 20 or 30 million people who are now uninsured finding coverage for the first time."

Jobs are jobs, and for Scott — who has tied his re-election efforts to job creation — HealthPlan Services' news is a welcome announcement.

But it doesn't hide an unmistakable awkwardness.

Scott, a former hospital chain CEO, rose to national prominence opposing changes to the health care system being pushed by President Barack Obama and Democrats. He then used that prominence as a platform to run for governor and continued to fight the law once taking office.

In a March 2012 Fox News interview, Scott said he ran for governor on a campaign of "getting our state back to work" and that the health care law "will be the biggest job-killer ever."

Yet in February Scott broke with Republicans in the state and supported a key part of the health law that would have provided health insurance to 1 million poor Floridians.

As HealthPlan Services was announcing its job expansion, Scott held firm that the federal law is bad for business.

"It's going to have an adverse effect on jobs," Scott said.

HealthPlan Services now employs 2,400 people in 22 states, including 652 people in Hillsborough County. Bak, who began his career with the company as a sales representative in 1989, said he considered expanding in Ohio or Nevada, but that Florida's low taxes and available workforce prevailed.

HealthPlan Services also is receiving economic incentives from the state that CFO Stephen Saft described as worth several million dollars, including grants for worker training programs. Enterprise Florida, which negotiated the incentive package, declined to state its value, citing a state law that keeps incentive deals confidential for six months.

The deal, according to the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corporation, is worth $2.5 million. It includes $500,000 in local incentives and about $2 million from the state.

Many of the jobs will be in customer care. Officials said the new jobs would pay more than the average wage in Tampa, but they declined to provide specifics.

"When you announce a lot of jobs, it's fun," Scott told about 50 employees who gathered for Wednesday's announcement. "You know the old United Way thermometer? That's how I think about my job."

Scott was joined by Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, a Democrat, who was effusive in his praise of the Republican governor.

"The governor and I are in different political parties. That's no secret," Buckhorn told the crowd of employees, some of whom filled a nearby stairway. "We could not have had a better partner than this governor. . . . We are thankful for that leadership."

Scott told familiar biographical stories about growing up in public housing, buying two struggling Missouri doughnut shops and entering the private hospital business.

He also urged people to call his office if they have an unpleasant experience with a state bureaucrat.

Contact Steve Bousquet at sbouquet@tampabay.com (850) 224-7263.

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