State employees should pay their own health premiums

Top state officials in Florida are unwilling to improve health care coverage for the public, yet they won’t give up their top-of-the-line insurance plans.

Gov. Charlie Crist is one of about 27,479 state employees who don’t have to pay a monthly premium for health insurance. This costs Florida taxpayers about $45 million a year, according to the Miami Herald.

It’s not as if many of them can’t afford their own health care. An estimated 2,431 of these employees earn more than $100,000 a year, according to the St. Petersburg Times.

Such benefits should have been the first thing to go in budget cuts, yet more important fields like education have suffered.

Florida is one of only seven states that offer free insurance premiums to some state employees and their families, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Even members of Congress, who are often criticized for their quality health plans, pay monthly fees for benefits.

Free premiums are not the only perk.

It makes sense that Crist can add his wife to his plan, but next year he also plans to add her two daughters from a previous marriage, despite the fact that they live with their father in New York.

“There is not a residency requirement for coverage,” Crist’s spokesman Sterling Ivey said to the Times.

Crist is standing by his free premium. In fact, he said his free ride is “appropriate.”

“I think it’s part of the compensation package for a public servant,” Crist said to the Times. “It’s a policy that has been supported by the Legislature, and I’m comfortable with it.”

Support for the free premiums seems to be coming from both political parties.

“When you have employees who pay no premiums, it’s a part of their total compensation package,” Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink, a democratic candidate for governor, said to the Times. “To me, of greater concern is why we might have two classes of employees in state government: One class doesn’t pay any premiums and the other class does. That certainly seems unfair to me.”

All public officials should have to pay the same premiums as citizens. Even those employees who do pay premiums pay less than average

State employees pay $600 individually each year, and families pay $2,160. The average worker pays $1,133 individually and $4,697 for a family, according to a study by policy group Families USA.

Even Hillsborough County employees are complaining over the prospect of paying higher premiums. According to the Times, monthly payments for individual plans are increasing from $156 to $239, while family plans have nearly doubled to $457.

However, employees receive $210 a month in benefits to pay the premium cost. Instead of getting the premium for nearly free, individuals will have to pay about $29 or $247 for a family.

Many Floridians would be glad to pay such low premiums.

Florida should join the rest of the country and force public employees to pay their own premiums.