Senate Budget Eases Up on Govt Worker Health Care

By: Jim Saunders, Health News Florida
By: Jim Saunders, Health News Florida

THE CAPITAL, TALLAHASSEE, April 7, 2011 --

Still grappling with health-insurance costs, the Florida Senate on Wednesday decided rank-and-file employees should escape a large increase in premiums next year --- but could see their benefits trimmed.

Also, the Senate scrapped a controversial plan to privatize a state mental hospital in Baker County, handing a victory to workers and community leaders worried about a for-profit company running the facility.

The insurance decision came after Senate leaders proposed changes last week that could have forced tens of thousands of employees to swallow premium increases of $1,100 a year or more for family coverage.

Senators scaled that back dramatically Wednesday, approving a budget amendment that includes a $20-a-month premium increase for family coverage and no increase for individuals.

The amendment, however, would still lead to substantial increases for appointed workers and lawmakers, who have paid little in recent years for coverage. They would start being treated the same as rank-and-file employees --- meaning an appointed worker with family coverage could see costs jump from $360 a year to $2,400.

At the same time, Senate leaders want the state to negotiate revamped insurance-benefit packages to help restrain costs. It is too early to know what those packages would include, but benefits could be reduced.

Senate Budget Chairman JD Alexander, R-Lake Wales, said the insurance program will cost about $2 billion next year, up about $170 million from this year. He said "there is no free lunch.''

"I think this is a simple, direct approach that says we will live within our means,'' Alexander said.

Democratic Sen. Bill Montford, whose Tallahassee-area district is filled with state workers, said the proposal is "promising," compared to the earlier versions.

"I believe we can protect the taxpayers, and I think we can get a reasonably good deal for employees,'' he said.

Montford, however, said he remains concerned about increasing insurance premiums at the same time that lawmakers are looking at requiring employees to start paying into the state pension fund.

"The question to me is, how much can we expect them to absorb quickly?" he said.

The Senate approved the amendment as it prepared to vote Thursday on a budget proposal for the 2011-12 fiscal year. The House also is expected to vote on its version of the budget, setting the stage for negotiations in the coming weeks on a final spending plan.

Employee health insurance likely will be an issue in those negotiations, as the House has not proposed the same changes as the Senate. The Senate proposal would take effect Jan. 1.

Currently, individual rank-and-file employees pay $600 a year for insurance, while family coverage costs $2,160. That family cost would increase to $2,400 under the Senate bill.

Appointed officials and lawmakers pay $100 a year for individual coverage, which would increase to $600 in the Senate proposal.

During an all-day session, senators also approved a budget amendment that eliminated a proposal to privatize the Northeast Florida State Hospital in the Baker County community of Macclenny.

The original version of the Senate budget called for contracting with a private company or a local government to run the facility --- though it left open the possibility that workers could form a non-profit firm to try to compete for the contract.

Sen. Charlie Dean, an Inverness Republican whose sprawling rural district includes the hospital, said the facility will face budget cuts in exchange for the state continuing to run it. While the cuts would not be the same throughout the 633-bed hospital, a civil-commitment program could see cuts as high as 10 percent.

Privatization opponents have feared, at least in part, that turning the hospital over to a contractor would lead to reduced employee benefits. Dean said the hospital has 1,186 employees, which makes it a huge part of the local economy.

Dean, who also has fended off past privatization attempts, asked other senators to "give my little hospital a chance.''


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  • by Out of here Location: tallahassee on Apr 10, 2011 at 09:04 PM
    I am filling out my resignation letter right now. With the $3000 pay cut for FRS and now this $2000 addition in healthcare costs, I will experience a $5000 pay cut or about 10% of my salary. I no longer can work for the State. I am sorry but I when I came to the state, I accepted a smaller salary because of these benefits. Now that they are being taken away, I will find somewhere else to work.
  • by Karen on Apr 7, 2011 at 07:17 PM
    Perhaps what the State of Florida needs to do is renegotiate its contract with Capital Health Plan. They've been making a LOT of money off of State employees for years. Instead of cutting benefits, force Capital Health Plan to lower their costs to the State or they can fade away in the sunset with no customers.
  • by gravelyconcern Location: S.FL on Apr 7, 2011 at 05:06 PM
    This is why FL should enforce the Obama Health Care, because all of us are going to need low cost health care.
  • by Former State Worker Location: Tallahassee on Apr 7, 2011 at 10:15 AM
    Hmmmm.....State system is crazy...not at all what it used to be....some USED to be jealous over state worker.....PRIVATE is less red tape, at least they appreciate you......for those of you who have no children agreeing with the changes.....it's not others faults that they wanted to have a life........
    • reply
      by IWantedALifeToo on Apr 7, 2011 at 03:32 PM in reply to Former State Worker
      I don't have children because I couldn't afford it because I was forced to pay for yours (education, health insurance, etc)
  • by Anonymous on Apr 7, 2011 at 10:04 AM
    SES are rank-and-file, please don't attempt to include them into the primadonna, legistlative type class!
  • by OUCH on Apr 7, 2011 at 09:30 AM
    I'll be forced to quite. If I am forced to pay an additional $2000 per year for health insurance and pony up 2-6% of my salary to the FRS then I won't be able to afford my mortgage, student loans and insurance. I would be hit with almost a 10% pay cut. I will be forced to find another job that pays more. A big slap in the face. I didn't chose to become SES, but the insurance benefit was given as a perk because of the rights that I lost be moving from CS. So much for that!
    • reply
      by OUCH TOO on Apr 7, 2011 at 10:24 AM in reply to OUCH
      I am in the same boat OUCH. My position was moved to SES and I only make $27k a year and do not supervise anyone. I will be cancelling the family vacation and no more eating out.
      • reply
        by Ouch Three on Apr 7, 2011 at 11:06 AM in reply to OUCH TOO
        I am in the same boat as you guys as well as many others they link us in with SMS for some reason. We are NOT SMS and do not make that much. I guess that means they will start paying us for all the overtime we put in right??????
        • reply
          by Ouch 4 on Apr 7, 2011 at 11:49 AM in reply to Ouch Three
          I agree. But don't look for any overtime pay. THe work maybe, but not the overtime pay........
    • reply
      by Ed on Apr 7, 2011 at 02:26 PM in reply to OUCH
      It puts a larger burden on me also, but quitting is plain stupid! Are you nuts?
    • reply
      by OUCH is right on Apr 7, 2011 at 03:29 PM in reply to OUCH
      I work close to 50 hours a week but don't get overtime or comptime. Just the pension part of the bills out there with cost me almost $2000 a year. I can't afford even that part. I will have to forego the health coverage and hope I don't get sick.
  • by Retired Location: Florida on Apr 7, 2011 at 08:31 AM
    I sure wish they would put a tier system in place. Single, husband and wife, and family. We pay as much for two as a family of 10 pays. So really the people that are paying for two are carrying the brunt of the cost. Two people using the services is a lot less that 10 in a family using them. But that would make too much sense so they will never do this.
    • reply
      by Katie on Apr 7, 2011 at 09:38 AM in reply to Retired
      A tier system would be a great idea, considering that it's just my husband and myself. The ones who are complaining about that system being unfair are the folks who have a half dozen or more kids. It just makes too much sense for them to try something like that. Penalize one, penalize all.
  • by Anonymous on Apr 7, 2011 at 08:18 AM
    The article makes it seem like going from 360 to 2400 is a huge deal. Why shouldn't all State Employees pay the same for insurance coverage? I think if they are going to increase insurance rates for families, they should increase it for single coverage as well (maybe 10 bucks a month).
    • reply
      by OUCH on Apr 7, 2011 at 09:32 AM in reply to
      Because I gave up employee rights when I moved from Career Service to Select Exempt. The only perk was the free health insurance premium (that ended last year) and the additional leave time. I lost the ability to get overttime pay, comp time or any ability to contest a job loss. I am not sure it was that big of a trade, but if I lose the little that I did get there will be no reason to remain select exempt and I would hope my position would return to Career Service.
    • reply
      by Anonymous on Apr 7, 2011 at 02:05 PM in reply to
      I agree, I should pay less for me and my spouse than a person with a spouse and 3 kids.
    • reply
      by do the math on Apr 7, 2011 at 03:26 PM in reply to
      The family coverage has been a bargain for a long time. It doesn't limit how many people it covers so if you have ten kids or just one then it is the same amount. Single people are only covering one person and are therefore paying a lot more per person than some of the families. If you charge people the same amount per person then that would be more fair.
  • by Lee on Apr 7, 2011 at 08:13 AM
    Senate Budget Chairman JD Alexander, R-Lake Wales, said the insurance program will cost about $2 billion next year, up about $170 million from this year. He said "there is no free lunch.'' I am not clear why Alexander believes my paying $600.00 a year plus 25 or 40 dollars a visit plus increased cost of medication this year is "free". His insurance has been FREE for years.....this year he might pay $ 14.00 for it. Increases to anything needs to start at the top of the food chain! Florida House & Senate first!!!
    • reply
      by Anonymous on Apr 7, 2011 at 08:37 AM in reply to Lee
      Did you read the article. It says appointees and lawmakers would also pay for their insurance. Also lawmakers currently do pay for health insurance. This started last year.
      • reply
        by Anonymous on Apr 7, 2011 at 02:02 PM in reply to
        sure they pay, a very little, less that a tank of gas.
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