House Panel Looks To Extend Health Coverage To OPS State Workers

Feb 28, 2013

Florida lawmakers are weighing whether to add more than 8,000 additional employees to the state’s health insurance rolls. As one of the largest employers, the state of Florida is subject to many of the fines outlined in the federal healthcare law, and it wants to avoid those penalties, while also trying to hold down healthcare costs.

Under the federal affordable care act, large employers, including the state of Florida, have to offer insurance to employees who work more than 30 hours a week. The state offers benefits to most of its full-time workers, but some 8,700 people work without benefits in what care called OPS positions. Governor Rick Scott says the state should go ahead and cover those additional employee.

“Based on the estimating conference this morning, we’d estimate there would be around 8737 employees that would qualify under the governor’s proposal. And that’s the extent of the governor’s proposal at this time," said Rory Snyder, policy chief for Scott’s budget office. 

Snyder spoke before the House panel charged with evaluating the impact of the healthcare law in Florida.  He says the Governor believes the benefits for OPS employees can be paid out of their respective agencies budgets. He also says a trust fund for state employees can be tapped to cover expenses. But state lawmakers like Republican Representative  John Wood say trust funds aren’t a fix forever and want more long-term solutions, like raising co-pays or going with cheaper plans in an effort to save the state some money.

“It’s pretty much clear we have to do something. Otherwise we’re faced with paying a very large a penalty to the federal government, which seems to be the way this law works," Wood said.

The state is already expecting its healthcare costs to rise by $50 million this year, regardless of the affordable care act. The addition of OPS state employees adds another $32 million  to the tab. That has lawmakers looking for less expensive options. But so far, choices are slim. If the state doesn’t expand coverage to more people, it will be on the hook for fines worth $318-360 million.