Gov. Ron DeSantis wants to put on hold for another year an overhaul of the health insurance program that provides benefits to more than 366,000 state employees and family members across Florida.
A proposed budget released this week by the Republican governor would maintain the same type of coverage that state employees have now, despite a 2017 law that required the program to be revamped effective in January 2020. The Legislature signed off on the overhaul — which was pushed by House Republicans — as part of contentious budget negotiations in 2017.
Rep. Loranne Ausley, a Tallahassee Democrat, called the governor’s health-insurance recommendation “good news,” as it came at the same time DeSantis did not recommend pay raises or cost-of-living adjustments for state employees in the $91.4 billion budget proposal.
“I hope this means that, at least in one respect, the governor values the service of our state employees,” said Ausley, who added that the health-insurance recommendation “at least avoids the double whammy employees have been facing.”
But the recommendation is just that. It has to be approved by the Legislature to take effect. The Legislature, not the Governor, is charged with assembling the state’s budget and directing how money will be spent.
If approved by the Legislature during the upcoming 2020 Legislative Session, though, it would be the second time in as many years that the state agreed to delay the sweeping changes.
During the 2019 Legislative Session, lawmakers agreed to push back for a year the January 2020 deadline. DeSantis’ proposal would delay it one more year.
The 2017 law required the Department of Management Services to begin offering employees a choice of four different health plans that varied in health benefits and costs.
While the state would contribute the same amounts of money for the employees regardless of the plan, the 2017 law authorized employees who enroll in less expensive plans to pocket any savings.
The costs of providing health insurance to state employees is significant. State economists in August estimated that the health insurance benefits would cost slightly more than $3 billion in the 2020-2021 fiscal year, which will start July 1.
The costs, economists agreed, are expected to total $3.2 billion the following year and reach as much as $3.53 billion in fiscal year 2022-2023.
DeSantis’ proposal to delay the changes came after an actuarial analysis showed the redesign could actually increase costs to the state.
The consulting firm Foster & Foster warned that the changes could entice about 29,000 state employees who have declined coverage in the past to enroll in the program. If that were to occur, savings associated with the redesign could be offset by increases in enrollment.
Following the release of the analysis, the Legislature in 2019 directed the state to analyze the benefits of offering state employees HMO coverage on a county, regional and statewide basis. Nearly 53 percent of the people were enrolled in HMO plans, according to economists.
Ausley said the Legislature should take steps to repeal the 2017 law.
“It seems to me this governor is not interested in going in this direction,” Ausley said of the redesign.
Former state Rep. Jason Brodeur, a Sanford Republican, championed the redesign in 2017, saying at the time that it would modernize the state-employee health insurance program into something that more closely mirrors private-sector insurance packages.
Brodeur, who is running for the state Senate next year, said Thursday he had not read the governor’s proposal.