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Most Florida legislators say yes to free or deeply discounted health, dental benefits

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While they are hesitant to implement Obamacare provisions and expand access to health care, Florida legislators overwhelmingly tap into the benefits made available to them either for free or deeply discounted rates.

Thirty-six of Florida’s 40 state senators are enrolled in the state health insurance plan and 39 of them enroll in the dental plan, which is free, information from the Office of Legislative Services shows.

In the House of Representatives, 106 of the members enroll in the state group plan and 111 take advantage of the dental plan.

Most of the members chose the state’s insurance coverage and not the health maintenance organization option. Legislators once paid a lower amount per month, but in 2012, under the leadership of then Senate President Mike Haridopolos, the Senate informally agreed to start paying more toward the costs of the benefit. The changes became effective in 2013 with a new benefit year, Senate spokesperson Katie Betta saidNow they pay the same amount as career service employees.

Legislators contribute $50 per month for individual coverage and $180 a month for family coverage.

Senate President Andy Gardiner and House Speaker Steve Crisafulli both have family health and dental coverage. Gardiner said he wasn’t aware legislators didn’t contribute to the dental benefits but said he kept the policy championed by his Senate president predecessors because he thought it was a good policy to contribute to the health-care costs.

Florida is a state that has resisted implementation of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Florida was the plaintiff in the multi-state lawsuit that challenged the legality of the federal law in 2012. A 5-4 ruling upheld the constitutionality of the law but made a central tenet of it, Medicaid expansion, optional.

Since that ruling, 28  states and Washington, D.C., have expanded Medicaid. Florida has not. Florida also has not implemented a state insurance exchange as envisioned by the federal law.

The second and latest challenge to the health-care law centers on whether people who tap into an Obamacare plan through the federal exchange are able to receive a tax subsidy. The subsidies, opponents argue, are available only through state exchanges. More than 1.6 million Floridians enrolled in Obamacare during the second annual open enrollment. Most of them  were eligible for the subsidy.

State Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, dropped his employer coverage to enroll in the state group plan when he was elected in 2012.  He switched, he said, because the state plan was a better benefit for him and his family and cost less.

Galvano says he has no qualms with getting the coverage. He says he puts in long hours in the Senate and that his salary would translate to pennies an hour if he were to divide his salary by hours worked. Galvano said, though, that he was a proponent of expanding Medicaid so more lower-income Floridians could access health-care coverage.

State Sen. Aaron Bean also dropped his employer-based coverage to enroll in the state group plan. Bean is an outspoken opponent of Obamacare — from the state-operated exchange to the Medicaid expansion.

“We make $29,697 a year. To me, that (pay) package it comes with an insurance package as well,”  said Bean. “We give up so much by being a senator or representative. It’s just part of the compensation package. I don’t have a problem taking it.”

One of the most outspoken opponents of Obamacare, state Rep. Matt Hudson, also taps into the benefits package offered him. Hudson — chairman of the House Health Care Appropriations Subcommittee — has reiterated his chamber’s opposition to Medicaid expansion this year, including a plan put forth by the business communitybacked group called A Healthy Florida Works.

Hudson, a real estate agent, said he did not have access to employer-sponsored insurance before being elected in 2007 and said he took advantage of it when he was elected. Hudson said he was uninsured for a period of upward of three years.

“It is what it is. you work hard and you set aside money for a rainy day in case something happens. That was my lot in life at that time and I have no qualms about it.”

According to Michael Williams, Crisafulli’s communications director:

  • Employees and members began contributing to health insurance on Feb. 1, 2010.  At that time, single coverage premiums were $8.34 and family coverage premiums $30 monthly.  Prior to to that neither employees nor members made health insurance premium contributions toward health insurance.
  • Senators began contributing $50 for single and $180 for family monthly toward health insurance premiums on Jan. 1, 2013.
  •  Representatives began contributing $50 for single and $180 for family monthly toward health insurance premiums on Jan. 1, 2014.

On Wednesday, Bean’s Senate Health Policy Committee will hold a worship on the various health care coverage options. The meeting begins 1 p.m. in the Pat Thomas Committee Room, Room 412 of the Knott Building.

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