Florida legislators benefit from heavily subsidized health insurance causes for hormonal imbalance

TALLAHASSEE — One of the chief arguments Florida House Republicans made Friday when they rejected the Senate plan to help 600,000 working poor get health insurance is that it would create a taxpayer-funded entitlement and would be hard to repeal.

What they didn’t mention during the debate is that they are entitled to a very generous health insurance package that costs $22,000 a year — with premiums mostly covered by Florida taxpayers. And, over the years, they have rejected any attempts by Gov. Rick Scott to reduce the benefit.

For many of the 160 members of the Florida House and Senate, the prospect of having to scramble for cash to pay for medication and doctor visits is not something that keeps them up at night. According to financial disclosure statements, 54 legislators are millionaires and 145 of them are enrolled in the taxpayer-financed State Group Health insurance plan, which includes about 80,000 full-time state workers.

The monthly cost per legislator: $180 a month for a family, or $2,160 a year, and $50 a month, or $600 a year, for individuals. That’s only a fraction of the average monthly family premium paid by most Floridians — $1,347 — according to data tabulated by the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit that focuses on health care issues.

Until last year, House members were part of a group of state workers who got an even better deal: $30 a month for family health insurance coverage, and $8.34 a month for individuals. That group, along with 800 legislative staff, the governor and the Cabinet are among about 17,500 state workers, known as the Senior Management and Select Exempt Service, who pay the lowest costs in the state.

Of the few legislators who don’t accept the subsidized insurance are three senators and 12 House members. Some are veterans, who get health insurance from the federal government, and others retained the employer-paid insurance they had when they were elected.

One of them is Rep. Larry Lee, a Democrat from Port St. Lucie and an insurance agent. Since he was elected three years ago, Lee has refrained from accepting the state health insurance and continues to pay for his employer-sponsored plan, vowing not to accept the state plan until the House votes to cover the uninsured.

Taxpayers spend $1 million a month on the insurance for legislators and their staff, and the cost to the state is $1,264 a month to cover each family plan and $592 a month for individuals, according to the state Department of Management Services.

What they have is certainly a privilege,” said Katy Huddlestun, a student at the Florida International University School of Law. Last week, she dropped off 13,000 petitions from other millennials to House Speaker Steve Crisafulli urging him to extend coverage to the uninsured and close the coverage gap for people like her.

Huddlestun suffers from psoriasis, a chronic skin condition that requires her to pay thousands of dollars a month in prescription drugs. But she makes too little to qualify for Medicaid and can’t afford to buy insurance on the federal health insurance exchange under the Affordable Care Act.

I personally think it’s offensive when people say that Medi­caid is a handout,” she said. People I know that would use the help right now have no intention of being on the system forever. We’re trying to break into our careers, trying to finish our degrees and, at this moment, if we don’t get the help we need, we won’t be able to continue with our career plans.

That’s an employer’s decision,” said Rep. Jason Brodeur, R-Sanford, chairman of the House Health and Human Services Committee and an opponent of the Senate plan. He accepts the state health insurance. That’s part of the compensation package of that portion of your benefits, he said.

For the past five years, Scott has proposed increasing the subsidized health insurance rates to levels that match the national average. Although the governor has included the proposal in his budget every year since 2011, legislators have refused to go along.

Two years ago, the last time the House proposed helping the uninsured, it called for giving health care vouchers — about $2,300 a year — to parents and disabled adults who made less than $11,490 a year. In contrast, lawmakers enjoy a $22,000-a-year taxpayer-financed health insurance plan.

I thought it was only fair that we, as legislators, pay the same amount as our co-workers in state government,” Negron said last week. When I looked at the issue, where we were paying one-sixth of what co-workers in state government were paying, that struck me as an indefensible position.