FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) _ Members of a Florida House panel reluctantly agreed Thursday that they would rather extend health coverage to part-time employees rather than pay a roughly $300 million fine under President Barack Obama's federal health care law.
Residents and businesses are required to purchase health insurance under the Affordable Care Act or face a fine, and the state of Florida, which employs roughly 170,000 people, is also included in that mandate.
State officials estimate it would cost about $36 million to cover 8,737 part-time employees who work an average of 30 hours per week. Many of the state's part-time employees work in the health sector and in the university system.
The state also faces a $50 million increase to bring its health plan for full-time employees into compliance with the federal health law.
“Unfortunately, we have been put in a box where the fines become so untenable if you do not allow for participation that we have no choice but to allow for participation,'' Republican Rep. Gayle Harrell said at a committee meeting in Tallahassee.
Several members of the House committee charged with implementing the federal health care law suggested offering health plans with scaled-down benefits to part-time workers to save money. But Democratic Rep. Elaine Schwartz proposed offering part-time employees the same type of coverage as regular employees for at least a year and then revisiting the issue after that.
Rep. Ken Roberson, R-Port Charlotte, noted that some contribution rates in the state plan are as little as $8.34 a month for individual coverage and $30 a month for family coverage.
“Maybe we should take a look at raising that a little bit,'' he said, adding that many employees in the private sector pay up to 25 percent for their health coverage.
Gov. Rick Scott has also suggested the state dip into $226 million in reserves to cover some of the costs. He also wants each agency to determine how to handle specifics of insuring part-time employees, such as what type of benefits they may be offered.
But Rep. Matt Hudson said he wants to lay out clear guidelines for agency heads.
“If a particular agency says, `No I'm going to cover x amount or these employees,' I don't want us to run into a position that that we have a penalty that frankly just creams us,'' he said.
Florida's Legislative session begins next week and the committee is expected to make formal recommendations in the early weeks of session.
*Pictured above is Rep. Ken Roberson, R-Port Charlotte