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.
"Everyone wants to see the citizens of our state have insurance but there's a question whether we were are going to be able to trust that (the federal government) will pay for it long term," Weatherford said.
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. Those employees pay $8.34 a month for individual coverage and $30 a month for family coverage.
Still the governor has recommended - and plans to recommend again this week when he rolls out his 2013 budget proposals - that all state employees pay the same.
Weatherford agreed that there were "inequities depending on who you are and what position you hold."
Gaetz said he generally agreed state workers should pay the same for health insurance, but he added that it was more important to make sure that elected officials do not pay less.
"Public officials particularly need to be mindful of how the comparisons are drawn between the benefits they themselves have and the benefits other people have," Gaetz said.