Bill to allow state employees to enroll their children in kidcare clears committee

Jan 26, 2012

Florida’s state employees may not have received a raise in years, but the lowest-paid state workers could be in line for a new benefit.  Tom Flanigan reports a Senate committee has voted to allow those employees to enroll their children in Florida’s low-income healthcare service.

For years, children in Florida’s low-income families have had an option for low-cost medical coverage called “Kidcare”.  But members of the Senate’s Health and Human Services Budget Subcommittee learned Thursday that one group of low-paid Floridians doesn’t have that option available to them.

“Children of state employees are currently prohibited from obtaining health insurance coverage through Kidcare even if the family would otherwise be financially eligible.  This bill would allow state employees – if income eligible – to apply for the subsidized coverage through Kidcare.”

So Florida Senate Minority Leader Nan Rich, Democrat of Weston, has filed a bill that would remove that restriction.  Although the image of the overpaid, under-worked public employee has often been used for political purposes, Rich told members the reality is quite different.  For example, she said a surprising number of child abuse investigators in the Department of Children and Families might not be able to afford regular health coverage and could fit the Kidcare income guidelines.

“At $34,000 a year with a couple of kids, the family coverage would I  believe be $180 a month versus $15 or $20 and we have not given an increase to these people in my recollection since 2003.”

Rich told the subcommittee not only would those low-income state workers be saving money, but the state would save money, too.  Republican Senator Steve Oelrich  of Gainesville had just one question:

“We’re going to save $626,000 – or thereabouts and change – how does that come about that we’re going to save money?  I think it’s great that we’re going to save money.  How does that happen?”

To which Rich replied that, not only did regular health coverage cost the employees more, it also cost the state more as well.  And, unlike standard coverage, Kidcare coverage received federal matching money.

“It doesn’t cost us any money, it saves us whatever amount it is, and we get to enroll possibly 2,700 children who don’t have health care today.”

Senator Oelrich had no more questions.  And Subcommittee Chair Joe Negron, Republican of Palm City, agreed to vote for Rich’s bill, not because the feds were picking up part of the tab but in spite of it.

“And it seems inequitable to me to place them at a disadvantage to other employees in the private sector, so I look at this bill as a parity issue, not as a ‘Let’s let Washington help us pay benefits for our employees.’ That’s our job.”

The bill cleared the subcommittee.  If it survives the session, it will be the first added job benefit some State of Florida workers have seen in years.