Rubio enrolls in Obamacare, takes federal subsidy

Sen. Marco Rubio enrolled in the health care exchange despite his opposition.
Sen. Marco Rubio enrolled in the health care exchange despite his opposition.
Published Dec. 11, 2013

One of Obamacare's biggest critics is now officially covered under the federal health care exchange: Sen. Marco Rubio.

"Senator Rubio spent time looking at all the options and decided to enroll through the D.C. exchange for coverage for him and his family," spokeswoman Brooke Sammon told the Tampa Bay Times.

Rubio, a father of four, also took the federal subsidy afforded to lawmakers and staff — a perk worth up to 75 percent of monthly premium costs — that some Republicans wanted to kill off. Even some lawmakers who have enrolled in the exchange have rejected the taxpayer-funded employer contribution.

Sammon did not say what led Rubio to decide the health care plan was better than what he could have gotten on his own, and Rubio could not be reached Tuesday. But those who wanted to keep their employer coverage — and that generous subsidy — were directed to use the exchange, called DC Health Link.

In addition to the subsidy, Rubio and other federal employees got to pick from far more plans than ordinary people and had access to special customer service to ease their sign ups.

"Senator Rubio is following the law, even though he opposes it," Sammon said.

That Rubio even had to switch from the existing federal plan to the exchange is thanks to Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, who amended the Affordable Care Act to require members of Congress and staff join the exchange. It was viewed as a way to needle Democrats, but Democrats accepted the change.

As the law headed toward implementation, however, there was a question about the employer contribution, fears growing among Hill staffers who were facing big increases. The Obama administration stepped in and said it would continue the benefit. That saved Rubio and his family a lot, no doubt.

Rubio could not have looked at options under a Florida exchange because the state refused to set one up.

Sen. Bill Nelson bought his policy on the exchange last week and will also have Medicare Part A, a spokesman said.

Pension chief gets big raise

State pension fund chief Ash Williams got a big raise. Citizens Property Insurance got its first in-house watchdog. And Florida drivers will soon be able to show proof of car insurance by flashing their cellphones. All of that and more took place Tuesday during the final meeting of 2013 for Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Cabinet.

• Citizens' first inspector general will be Bruce Meeks, a former deputy attorney general and former I.G. for the State Board of Administration (SBA).

• Highway safety chief Julie Jones got the go-ahead to implement a law that will make Florida only the second state in the United States to allow motorists to electronically show proof of car insurance. She credited Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, with the idea and said that the new law should be in effect by mid January. "We're not concerned with a fraud issue here," Jones said.

• Williams, the executive director of the SBA, was hired more than five years ago at a salary of $325,000 a year. He got his first raise, and it was for $42,500 to bring his paycheck to $367,500. Williams presented a detailed report showing that the fund has grown by 15 percent this year. "You're doing a great job, Ash," Scott told Williams.

Veterans bill named for Young

A proposal to allow veterans from anywhere to pay in-state tuition if they attend a Florida college or university has a new name on it: U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young.

The Senate Education Committee voted unanimously Tuesday to rename SB 84 in honor of Young, who died in October.

"I don't know anyone who has ever served in a public office in Florida who has cared more about our active-duty military and our veterans than Congressman Young," said Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, who sponsors SB 84.

The "Congressman C. W. Bill Young Veteran Tuition Waiver Act" would negate out-of-state fees for all veterans who attend classes in person. That sets it apart from similar but more controversial proposals to grant in-state residency status to children of illegal immigrants (HB 205 and SB 428).

The House companion, also expected to be amended to honor Young, is sponsored by Reps. Heather Fitzenhagen, R-Fort Myers, and Kathleen Peters, R-South Pasadena, who is running in the special election for Young's seat.

Orlando senator next up

He survived a coup attempt and is now officially in line to take over the Florida Senate presidency in fall 2014.

Andy Gardiner, the 44-year-old Orlando Republican, was the focus of a personal, yet pomp-and-circumstance filled ceremony Tuesday where the Senate GOP unanimously approved him as its next leader.

Gardiner was elected to the Senate in 2008 and most recently served as majority leader.

Steve Bousquet and Tia Mitchell contributed.