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Highest Earners Pay Lowest Premiums

The Florida Cabinet, state agency managers and legislative staff are among 30,000 top-ranked state workers who will continue to pay ultra-low health insurance premiums in the coming year.

In a reverse of the Robin Hood principle, the state charges lower-paid workers six times more than those who have the highest earnings pay. 

Scott has pushed for four straight years to have all state workers, regardless of salary or position, pay identical amounts for health insurance.

But both the House and Senate this week released initial budgets that would keep premiums at the same rate. Those budgets — which are roughly $75 billion — would also offer pay raises to only select employees as opposed to an across-the-board increase.

The move to lock in low insurance rates for top-ranked employees comes as the Republican-controlled Florida Legislature continues to reject federal funds that could buy coverage for nearly 1 million low-income uninsured Floridians.

There are nearly 200,000 people enrolled in the state health insurance program, but nearly 30,000 of them, including top officials in state agencies, legislative staff, as well as the governor and members of the Cabinet like Attorney General Pam Bondi, pay one-sixth the regular rate.

The budgets released this week would keep top officials' premiums at $8.34 a month for individual coverage and $30 for a family. Most state workers pay $50 a month for an individual and $180 a month for a family.

State legislators in the last two years have started paying the higher rate, after the news media pounded them over the perk.

"There was a perception of special treatment for legislators and we fixed that," said Rep. Seth McKeel, R-Lakeland and the House budget chief.

McKeel said since legislators are already paying the higher rate there was a decision to keep rates the same for other high-ranking state employees.

This doesn't mean that changes still won't come for the state health insurance plan. The House this week rolled out a proposal to overhaul employee benefits in the next few years, including creating a tiered system for health insurance by 2017. But there's nothing similar moving in the Senate so it's unclear if the legislation will pass this year.

The two budgets rolled out this week by the House and Senate have some substantial differences that will be worked on in the next few weeks. The House spending plan is nearly $75.3 billion, while the Senate version is nearly $74.9 billion.

Some of the highlights from the initial versions:

  • The House has 5 percent pay raises for highway patrol troopers and other state law enforcement, while the Senate budget grants pay raises to people who work in the state's judicial system but not judges. Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart and Senate budget chief, said court officials have made a "persuasive case" that they are losing employees to better paying jobs elsewhere.
  • The House sets aside substantially more money for school-related construction projects. The House for example set aside $219 million for university construction projects, including $30 million for a sciences building at Florida State University. House Speaker Will Weatherford's father-in-law is the chairman of the FSU board. The Senate set aside $57.4 million.
  • The House proposes to increase per-student spending public schools by 3 percent, while the Senate increase is 2.58 percent.