I-Team: While Florida officials pan 'Obamacare,' the public covers many of their medical expenses

Lawmakers slow to reform costly state health plan

TAMPA - While Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi leads the legal assault on the Obama administration's attempt to provide 49 million uninsured Americans with medical coverage, state workers like her needn't worry about their own taxpayer-subsidized health insurance.

The state health insurance plan appears secure for government workers and early retirees, even though the cost is predicted to soar.

A 2011 study commissioned by the Florida Legislature forecast that the $2 billion annual cost of insuring state workers against medical ailments will balloon to $3.1 billion within two years.

"Under any circumstances, but more so given the current economic environment, these increases are unsustainable and must be addressed," wrote the study's authors at Buck Consultants LLC.

The consultants portrayed the insurance plan as stuck in a time warp. "The state's current approach to its health plan is best described as paternalistic," the consultants wrote, "providing generous benefits and allowing employees to be passive and perhaps even entitled, with little concern about costs."

That entitlement lets state workers pay as little as $50 a month for top-notch coverage that features low co-pays and deductibles with strict limits on what has to be paid out of pocket each year. A Bondi spokeswoman didn't respond to an ABC Action News I-Team inquiry about whether the attorney general is enrolled in the state employee health plan.

A couple of state lawmakers took a tentative stab at beginning to relieve the burden of Florida taxpayers earlier this year. But their legislation went nowhere.

State Rep. Bryan Nelson, an Apopka Republican, managed to find a Senate sponsor for a bill that would have opened a couple of wellness clinics, on a pilot basis, for state workers in Tallahassee.

The idea was the clinics would encourage healthy living now by state employees so there would be fewer expensive medical procedures later. Neither chamber even held a hearing on the proposal.

There was also an awkward moment in February when senators on a budget committee had to vote down a proposal to raise their own health insurance premiums.

State Sen. Joe Negron, a Republican from Stuart, said he and his colleagues should have to pay the same for health coverage as janitors and prison guards. Negron wanted to raise the discounted monthly premium for legislators from $8.34 for individual coverage to the still quite reasonable $50-a-month rate that most other state workers pay. The committee voted down the measure.

Legislators didn't pay any medical insurance premiums until 2010.

That same year, Florida TaxWatch estimated that requiring all state employees to pay the standard monthly premium rates --- $50 for individuals, $180 for families --- would save taxpayers $55 million annually.

Do you have information about government waste, fraud or abuse? A tip about business misconduct that needs to be investigated? Email us at iteam@abcactionnews.com.

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