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Fla. panel backs health coverage for part-timers

Kelli Kennedy, Associated Press

MIAMI (AP) -- A Florida House panel approved a measure Thursday to offer health insurance to the 8,737 of the state's part-time employees and their family members instead of paying a hefty fine under the federal health overhaul.

The panel could have decided to cap part-time employees to working 30 hours per week or chosen not to provide any health coverage, which would result in a $318 million fine under the Affordable Care Act.

Republican Rep. Carlos Trujillo said during a hearing in Tallahassee that capping state employees' hours would save the state $55 million the first year.

"But we're making a policy decisions that it's important to offer insurance to those that are working less than 30 hours," he said.

The state's part-time employees work in jobs from janitors and seasonal positions to high-ranking executives in the university systems.

The proposal would offer them coverage under the lowest level bronze health plan, instead of the higher, more benefit rich plan offered to regular state employees. That bronze plan would save about $2,000 per employee a year, said Trujillo, R-Doral.

Several Democrats pushed to offer all state employees the same coverage. Rep. Perry Thurston, D-Fort Lauderdale, asked the panel to look at cost figures for silver and gold health plans, but Trujillo warned the costs would be astronomical.

"We do have a fixed budget. We can't run a deficit. If we're going to decide as a chamber to offer a platinum plan, as some of the members have suggested, where do we get the money from. Do we take it from education? Do we take it from corrections," Trujillo said.

Democratic Rep. Dwight Dudley proposed including an option that would allow part-time employees to pay more if they wanted to bump up to a higher benefit plan.

A Senate panel also recently agreed to extend coverage to part-time employees, estimating it will cost about $137 million a year.