TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) -- Florida legislators who had been paying significantly less for health insurance than rank-and-file state workers are going to start pay more.
House Speaker Will Weatherford, who has come under fire for rejecting calls to expand the state's safety-net health care program to cover more Floridians, is going to require House members to pay more for their own insurance starting in January.
Weatherford decided to have House legislators pay the same rate as career service workers: $50 a month in premiums for individual coverage and $180 a month for family coverage. Senators already started paying the same rate as career service workers at the start of 2013.
House members — as well as Gov. Rick Scott and other top state officials — have been paying $8.34 a month for individual coverage and $30 a month for family coverage.
Scott, who does not take a salary for his job as governor but pays less than $400 a year to cover himself and his wife, has tried for three years to get all state workers to pay exactly the same for health insurance. But his proposal has been shot down each time by the Republican-controlled Florida Legislature.
The low cost of state health insurance for legislators and some state officials came into sharp contrast this past legislative session when Weatherford and House Republicans rejected accepting billions in federal aid in order to expand Medicaid to nearly 1 million Floridians. The expansion of Medicaid has been a key component of President Barack Obama's health care overhaul.
Weatherford acknowledged during last year's legislative session the low cost of health insurance for legislators. But he waited until this fall to announce that premiums for his own members would be going up.
"The speaker has said multiple times he is aware of the disparity in what House members pay compared to others and we have been working on addressing it," said Ryan Duffy, a spokesman for Weatherford.
Rep. Jim Waldman, D-Coconut Creek, said the move by the House was "long overdue."
"There should not be a discrepancy between what we pay and what the public has to pay and especially what other state workers have to pay," Waldman said.
But he said that Weatherford needs to take the next step and make sure "all Floridians" have access to health care by expanding Medicaid.
State records from this spring showed that all 40 state senators were enrolled in the state health insurance plan while more than 100 members of the 120-member House were enrolled.
Florida is spending more than $2 billion during this fiscal year — which ends next June — to cover roughly 170,000 state workers, university employees and retirees. Most of the money comes from taxpayers, not premiums paid by employees.
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