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Employees Affected By Prison Health Care Suit May Have To Reapply For State Benefits

As the state continues its battle to privatize the state’s prison health care services, some employees, who are still in limbo, may now have to reapply for their state benefits. About a thousand Florida Department of Corrections employees, who thought their positions would be taken over by a private company, may have prematurely canceled their insurance coverage.

Department spokeswoman Ann Howard says the agency notified prison health care employees Friday that the transition over to private employment is still on hold as the department continues to pursue a favorable ruling in the prison health care suit. So, those who canceled their insurance coverage now can re-enroll.

“So, if those employees want to come back and re-enroll with their benefits, they’re more than welcome to do that. And, then there’s all sorts of information about who they need to call to do that. And, if they have any questions, who they need to call.”

Employees can re-enroll now through December 31st. The department officially filed an appeal Friday to a Judge’s ruling that blocked its effort to privatize most prison health care services.

"That ruling could create a budget shortfall of up to 90-million dollars over the next 18 months as the next fiscal year would end. So, it jeopardizes the department's needs and legislative budget priorities," said Howard. "So, we are taking steps forward with this appeal."

Below is a generic version of the letter the department sent to its employees Friday:

December 11, 2012 Dear Health Service Employee: Recently, you received a “Notification Letter” that the Department of Corrections had signed a contract with a vendor to provide health services to inmates.  On December 4, 2012, the Second Judicial Circuit Court issued a ruling regarding the Department’s efforts to contract for comprehensive inmate health services.  As a result of this ruling, all transition activities related to contracted health services will be suspended. Due to this suspension, you may disregard the notification letter that you received in November.  We realize that some health service employees may have cancelled insurance coverage during open enrollment in anticipation of transition to contracted services.  These employees will be allowed to make changes and re-enroll from now through December 31, 2012.  To re-enroll, you must immediately call the People First Service Center to make benefit elections January 1, 2013.  The service center is open weekdays from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Eastern Time at 866-663-4735. The Department recognizes that this has been a challenging period for health service employees.  Your continued patience and understanding as we move through this process is appreciated. We will keep you informed as additional information becomes available. Sincerely, Michael D. Crews Deputy Secretary - DC

For more news updates, follow Sascha Cordner on twitter @SaschaCordner.

Sascha Cordner has more than ten years of public radio experience. It includes working at NPR member station WUFT-FM in Gainesville for several years. She's worked in both radio and TV, serving in various capacities as a reporter, producer and anchor. She's also a graduate of the University of Florida with a bachelor's degree in telecommunications. She is the recipient of 15 awards from the Associated Press, Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), and Edward R. Murrow. Her award-winning stories include her coverage on the infamous “Dozier School for Boys” and a feature titled "Male Breast Cancer: Lost in the Sea of Pink." Currently, Sascha serves as the host and producer of local and state news content for the afternoon news program "All Things Considered" at WFSU. Sascha primarily covers criminal justice and social services issues. When she's not reporting, Sascha likes catching up on her favorite TV shows, singing and reading. Follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter:@SaschaCordner.