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Florida House approves health insurance overhaul that locks in low health insurance premiums

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TALLAHASSEE, Florida — The Republican-controlled Florida House voted along party lines on Friday to retain — for now — the rates that Gov. Rick Scott and thousands of state workers are currently paying for health insurance.

Nearly 30,000 people in state government, including the governor, staff at the Florida Legislature and Attorney General Pam Bondi, pay either $8.34 a month for individual coverage or $30 a month for family coverage. Rank-and-file state workers pay $50 a month for individual coverage or $180 a month for family coverage. House and Senate members also pay this rate.

Scott has proposed requiring all state workers to pay the same amount, but his suggestion has been rejected for five straight years.

The measure to freeze the premiums was included in a sweeping overhaul of the state health insurance program that covers nearly 400,000 state workers, their families and retirees. If it becomes law, the amount would stay the same for the rest of this year and 2016.

Lawmakers are holding a special session to pass a new state budget.

It appears unlikely the House-supported health insurance overhaul will be voted on by the Senate — and it's not clear if all of the House Republicans who voted for it were aware that the premium amounts were included in it. Most of the debate over the bill focused on sections that called for revamping the type of coverage and offerings available for state workers.

"We voted to put that in state law?" said Rep. Travis Cummings, an Orange Park Republican who debated in favor of the legislation. "I can't speak to that. That's news to me."

When asked, House Speaker Steve Crisafulli said he supported the bill because it would provide choices for state workers in their insurance plans.

The vote on the insurance overhaul came a week after the Florida House rejected a proposal to draw down federal aid to provide health care coverage to hundreds of thousands of Floridians. The money for the coverage would have come from President Barack Obama's health care overhaul. House members decried the bill as an expansion of "Obamacare" and warned that that it could put taxpayers on the hook for billions of dollars.

House Republicans, however, pushed forward several bills that they said would help with health care costs and access to coverage. On Friday, they voted on several measures, including the bill to change the state worker health insurance program.

Employee premiums are usually set each year in the overall state budget.

But the legislation (HB 21) sponsored by Rep. Jason Brodeur also includes premium amounts.

The bill would change slightly the amounts paid by rank-and-file workers depending on whether they enroll in a health maintenance organization or a preferred provider organization. Brodeur, a Sanford Republican, said the bill "right prices" the offerings to state workers and reflects the fact that HMOs and PPOs cost differently. The bill also calls for expanding the types of coverage by 2018 and sharing any savings with employees if they choose a lower-cost option.

Democrats opposed the legislation, saying it would eventually lead to higher costs for state workers.

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