Brent Batten: Criticism of Gov. Rick Scott is ensured

BRENT BATTEN

Rick Scott can’t win.

This week and last, he’s lambasted for taking part in the generous health insurance plan offered to state employees. It has him paying $30 a month for coverage for him and his wife, far below what most people, even those whose insurance is subsidized by their employers, pay.

But you know perfectly well if the plan Scott proposed earlier this year to bring the cost of insurance for state employees more in line with what the rest of us pay would have passed, he would have been lambasted for that too. He would have been “balancing the budget on the backs of state employees.”

Moreover, the critics say Scott’s acceptance of taxpayer subsidized insurance makes him a hypocrite for leading Florida’s court challenge to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act passed by the Democrat-controlled Congress and signed by President Barack Obama in 2010.

Those who make this point either don’t understand Florida’s case against the law or are intentionally distorting it to score points against Scott and, by extension, just about anyone else who both presently has health insurance and who opposes the new law.

Florida’s argument, contrary to what is implied by dragging Scott and his taxpayer-subsidized health plan into the debate, isn’t that the government shouldn’t subsidize health care of millions more people than it already does. At a time when the national debt is at $15 trillion and expected to go up by another $7 trillion in the next decade, that case can certainly be made on grounds of fiscal sanity.

But it isn’t Florida’s primary argument. Instead, the state contends the government is overstepping its authority.

A key provision of the act is that Americans have to purchase health insurance or face a penalty. The theory is that everyone needs to have insurance so that costs are spread as equitably as possible. As a society, we can’t tolerate the thought of people sick and dying without getting care, so when someone shows up at an emergency room, they are treated whether they have insurance or not. Those who opt not to carry insurance benefit, since the costs of their care are passed along to those who do have insurance. It is especially galling when those without insurance have opted to spend money on luxury items like a big screen TV or a boat.

It is a problem, to be sure, but the mere existence of a problem does not confer upon the federal government powers it does not have.

It could be argued that the lack of volunteers constitutes a problem for many organizations that rely on them. Imagine the good that could be done if every American would volunteer 10 hours a week for a local charity. Illiteracy could be eliminated, at-risk children could be mentored. The very health related issues PPACA seeks to address might be solved if every doctor, nurse and technician volunteered 10 hours a week at a local clinic.

But does the scarcity of volunteers give the government the power to mandate that everyone do 10 hours of charity work each week? No.

The government is constrained in what it can do by the U.S. Constitution and nowhere in that document is it written that it has the power to force people to volunteer for good causes. Or to buy things.

That is essentially Florida’s argument against PPACA.

Now, back to Rick Scott and his medical insurance.

The governor is an employee of the state and therefore entitled to participate in its benefits programs.

State employees, at least in theory, perform some useful function for the taxpayers. In return taxpayers provide them a salary and benefits. Many private employers do the same thing. A 2010 survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation estimates 157 million non-elderly Americans are part of an employer-provided health plan. To argue that Scott, because his employer subsidizes his health care, is a hypocrite for standing against PPACA is to argue that all of those 157 million who oppose PPACA are hypocrites. It is one thing to favor taxpayers subsidizing the health care of those working for them and quite another to favor taxpayers subsidizing the health care of those who don’t.

As employer health plans go, Florida’s is a particularly generous one.

But that can hardly be blamed on Scott. Well before he became governor, the state adopted a multi-tier system in which different categories of employees pay different rates.

There are several employee classifications but for the sake of brevity, let’s look at a few of the more common ones.

One classification is that of “career service employee.” These are the rank and file workers who man agencies ranging from the Department of Agriculture to the Department of Veterans Affairs. They number more than 85,000 and enjoy certain civil services protections such as a grievance process in cases where they are disciplined or let go.

Two other classifications are “select exempt service” and “senior management service.” In the discussion of health insurance, they are treated the same. They are, as the title suggests, often senior managers of agencies. The governor is part of this group. Also included are mid-level managers, legislative staff and professionals such as doctors and lawyers. They are said to work, “at will,” having no civil service protection and subject to firing at any time for any reason. They number about 20,000 across the state.

Kristopher Purcell, communications director for the state’s Division of Management Services, said because of their more tenuous employment position, SES and SMS employees are offered a better rate on their health insurance. They, Scott included, pay $360 a year for family coverage. The state kicks in $14,556 for a total of $14,916.

A career service employee pays $2,160 a year for family coverage with the state adding $12,756, again bringing the total to $14,916.

Purcell said the decision to offer SES and SMS employees a better rate was made by the Legislature.

The Kaiser Family Foundation survey states the average American with health insurance through work paid $3,997 for family coverage in 2010, with the employer contributing $9,773 for a total of $13,770.

Scott’s budget proposal would have meant big changes for all state employees, had it gone through. SES and SMS employees would have paid the same as career service employees. More importantly, the state’s contribution to any employee’s plan would have been capped at $5,000.

The Legislature rejected that portion of Scott’s budget. If it hadn’t, do you think any of Scott’s present critics would be lauding him for making his health care more expensive?

Connect with Brent Batten at naplesnews.com/staff/brent_batten

© 2011 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Comments » 1

unfatcat writes:

If government would get out of the way of all social services, the public would analyze their own communities needs and step up to the plate to solve them. But the Fed has put their shoe in every system, inventing every possible welfare program (sometimes doubled).

Imposing taxes/fees on some and/or through all by taxpayer welfare does not solve problems; it only prolongs the dependence of these programs which should be aimed to help people, not permanently take care of them.

State insurance for state employees are employment contracts and have nothing to do with the national healthcare bill as people accepted jobs for a certain pay based on the benefits they would receive. For instance, would you choose $8 plus benefits or $12 per hour, no benefits? Everyone makes a choice of accepting a job depending on their own family's needs, etc.

Rick Scott has already done plenty for public workers to not respect him. At this point, many public workers probably wish they had used their talents and education in a job where they could've had the chance to get further ahead in their lives; instead, they opted for public service, contract salary, and contract retirement, which apparently is a breakable contract.

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