Florida’s top economist said Thursday the Legislature could consider adding a few hours of tax and financial advice to the list of benefits the state of Florida offers its employees.
Amy Baker, the coordinator for Florida’s Office of Economic and Demographic Research, said right now fewer than 5,000 people — most of them active workers — were enrolled in high deductible health insurance plans, or about 2.7% of the state workforce.
If the Legislature wants to increase participation in high deductible plans, which can be combined with health savings accounts that allow payments for certain medical expenses with tax-free funds, it should consider providing employees with financial and tax advice.
Baker said the Legislature could also consider contributing more to health savings accounts maintained by lesser paid employees and creating a loan program in case employees don’t have enough in their HSA accounts to pay health-related expenses.
Sen. Jeff Brandes applauded that idea and said employees should receive the advice when they begin their jobs in state government.
Brandes said legislators have a “duty” to fully inform employees — and he said he would be working with Senate budget chairs to bring some suggestions to fruition in the Session that starts in January.
The St. Petersburg Republican has been using his new post as chair of the Senate Governmental Oversight and Accountability Committee to probe state government spending on everything from cars to state employee health insurance.
He wants the Legislature to take steps during the upcoming Session to encourage more state workers to take advantage of high deductible health plans. The plans save employees on monthly premiums, but they also require employees to pay out of pocket for their own health care until they reach the yearly deductible, which can be nearly $3,000 for family coverage.
The argument for such plans is that they prompt state workers to make more informed decisions about their health care coverage, which can lead to less costs for state government.
But the financial and tax advice will also help employees to better plan for their future, Brandes said. He pointed out that employees who are enrolled in the state’s defined contribution retirement plan — which is like the 401(k) plans offered by private companies — are not contributing enough to meet their retirement goals.
“If we are going to provide these benefits, we should at least advise them as to how to maximize these benefits we’re providing,” Brandes said.