By Sandy Parker
Founding member, Organizing for Action
Health insurance is one of the biggest items in many families’ budgets. Over one million Floridians have no health insurance at all, mostly because they can’t afford it. But members of the Florida House of Representatives can buy family health insurance for just $30 a month.
What’s wrong with this picture?
The Florida Legislature tried to do something to help Florida’s uninsured in the session just ended, but the effort failed.
The House rejected $51 billion of federal assistance to provide coverage for 1.1 million low-income working citizens over 10 years. Wanting nothing to do with federal money, the House proposed a $3 billion, 10-year plan paid for with state money that would have covered only 115,000 people. Refusing to compromise with the Senate, which would have used the federal money to help the uninsured purchase private insurance, the legislative session ended with nothing getting done.
Florida businesses will pay the price. Under the Affordable Care Act, businesses with more than 50 employees working more than 30 hours a week will be fined if they don’t provide health insurance and more than 30 of their employees sign up for insurance through a federal health exchange.
The fine will be $2,000 for each worker after the first 30 who turns to the exchange. Statewide, those fines could reach $145 million next year, according to the Bradenton Herald.
Florida hospitals will pay, too. They will continue to bear the costs of the uninsured who come to emergency rooms for care. And under other provisions of the Affordable Care Act, their Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements will be cut, despite the state’s not having taken the federal money.
Ultimately, you and I will pay, as businesses, hospitals and insurance companies pass on their increased costs to customers.
But don’t worry. The Florida government won’t pay. In what the Bradenton Herald called “an act of staggering duplicity,” the Legislature approved giving health insurance to part-time state workers in order to avoid the Obamacare fines on businesses that don’t provide coverage to those working over 30 hours per week.
And what about that $30-a-month House member insurance?
In 2012, the Florida Senate voted to increase senators’ insurance premiums, realizing it wasn’t fair for them to pay less than low-level state employees. As a result, Florida senators and most state workers now pay $180 a month for family coverage.
In his 2013 budget proposal, Gov. Rick Scott urged uniform premiums for all state employees, which would have saved the state $43.4 million.
But House members apparently like the deal they’ve got. They chose not to follow the Senate’s lead and ignored the governor’s request.
House members, who earn $29,697 a year for what is considered part-time work, get the same coverage as other state workers, but at a lower cost. According to the Miami Herald, they will pay just $8.34 a month for state-subsidized health care next year, or $30 for family coverage. That’s one-sixth of what state senators and most state employees will pay, and one-tenth of the cost to the average private-sector worker, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.
It’s shameful that our Legislature couldn’t find a way to help 1.1 million uninsured Floridians. But the fact that the Florida House of Representatives selfishly ignored the Senate’s example and the governor’s request for uniform premiums, at a cost to us taxpayers of over $40 million a year, is galling.
Call Representatives Matt Hudson, R-Naples (239-417-6270) and Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples (239-417-6200). Urge them to accept the federal government’s $51 million so that all Floridians not just House members can have affordable health insurance.