Lawmakers Try Again On State Worker Health Plan Changes

Jan 7, 2016

In previous legislative sessions, lawmakers have failed to make changes to the state employee group insurance. The issue is expected to come up again this session.

In his budget proposal for 2016, Gov. Rick Scott said he wants to see the state employees who pay $8.34 for individual coverage or $30 a month for family coverage - certain managers, the governor and lawmakers in the Florida House - pay the same monthly health insurance premiums as the rest of Florida's state employees: $50 a month for an individual or $180 for a family.

But lawmakers are seeking more sweeping changes, including establishing a price transparency pilot project, setting lower premiums for Preferred Provider Organization (PPO) plans and eventually offering four different “metal tier” benefit levels.

State Sen. Jeff Brandes (R-St. Petersburg) filed SB 1434 Wednesday to overhaul health insurance for state employees. It’s similar to measures that have been proposed in the past in the Florida House, including a proposal from state Rep. Jason Brodeur, who chairs the Health & Human Services Committee.

Brodeur’s proposal failed during the 2015 regular session, but he said he plans to try again this year with a proposed committee bill.

“I will be filing changes to the state group health insurance plan, likely very similar to last year,” Brodeur said in an email to WUSF News.

Since 2005, most state workers in Florida have paid $50 dollars a month for individual coverage, or $180 dollars a month for their family.

These monthly premiums are the same whether they enroll in a Health Maintenance Organization (HMO)or a PPO. Among the changes sought in the bill proposed last session by Brodeur were lowering the monthly premiums for the PPO, and increasing them for the HMO.

"Something that gives you more should cost a little more,” he said.  “The upward adjustment reflects the fact that these are offered as richer benefits, that’s the actual value of what we are giving, or providing, as part of the plan."

But the 2015 legislative session ended early over disagreement over Low Income Pool funds, so dozens of bills, including Broduer’s changes to state employee health insurance, died. That meant it was more or less business as usual last fall at the benefits fairs held across Florida for state workers.

Shabnam Mehra, an assistant director in planning and analysis who has worked for the University of South Florida in Tampa for almost two decades, is one of about 150,000 people who work for the state.

She said she's seen the state universities grow and change, but one thing that hasn't changed in recent years is how much she pays for a health plan for her family. During open enrollment last fall, she decided to stay with her AvMed plan through the state.

"I'm fine, no changes, so I'm fine,” Mehra said.

Many workers see the benefit as a trade-off for salaries that are lower than in the private sector. Mehra said the plan offered through her husband’s job is much more expensive than the insurance she has as a state employee.

“It's much lower,” Mehra said. “I have a husband who works commercially, and he's covered on my plan for this reason.”

The state estimates it cost about $1.5 billion in 2013 for health insurance that covers more than 300,000 state employees and their families.

Lottie Watts is a reporter and producer with WUSF in Tampa. Health News Florida receives support from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.