Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford announced he will be raising the cost of health insurance for state legislators. (Photo via MyFloridaHouse.gov)

Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford announced he will be raising the cost of health insurance for state legislators. (Photo via MyFloridaHouse.gov)

By Ashley Lopez
Florida Center for Investigative Reporting

Florida lawmakers will be paying more for health care soon.

This year, during the last state Legislative session, lawmakers took heat for keeping their cheap health insurance—which is subsided by state taxpayers— while simultaneously turning down federal money aimed at providing health care to more of the state’s poorest residents.

However, since then, Republican leadership in the Florida House has decided to require lawmakers to pay the same amount for health insurance as all other state workers. The Associated Press reports:

House Speaker Will Weatherford, who has come under fire for rejecting calls to expand the state’s safety-net health care program to cover more Floridians, is going to require House members to pay more for their own insurance starting in January.

Weatherford decided to have House legislators pay the same rate as career service workers: $50 a month in premiums for individual coverage and $180 a month for family coverage. Senators already started paying the same rate as career service workers at the start of 2013.

House members – as well as Gov. Rick Scott and other top state officials – have been paying $8.34 a month for individual coverage and $30 a month for family coverage.

Scott, who does not take a salary for his job as governor but pays less than $400 a year to cover himself and his wife, has tried for three years to get all state workers to pay exactly the same for health insurance. But his proposal has been shot down each time by the Republican-controlled Florida Legislature.

It is unclear why Weatherford decided to change how much his colleague’s pay out of pocket for health insurance now. However, there has been mounting criticism of GOP state leaders as they continue to stall or impede several parts of the Affordable Care Act.

In a few days, the federal health insurance exchanges will go online—including the one in Florida, which was set up by the federal health department. Gov. Rick Scott and other state officials have been undermining the roll out of that exchange, though, going as far as to not allow people to enroll Floridians that are eligible in county health departments.

The state is also still not taking millions of federal dollars to extend health coverage through Medicaid to about a million people here in Florida.

Both these things have garnered a lot of criticism and even unveiled defiance from other officials in the state.

In light of this, Weatherford probably thought now was the time to take another criticism off the table. Scott Maxwell, a columnist for The Orlando Sentinel, wrote recently:

House Republicans have railed against health care for the poor while availing themselves one of the most generous health-care packages in America.

We’re talking $8-a-month health care for them — while rejecting $51 billion worth of federal money earmarked for the uninsured.

So this week — as other states prepare to accept their share of the federal money — I let House Speaker Will Weatherford’s office know that I was going to shine a spotlight on that hypocrisy.

His office quickly responded that the speaker was making a change — not to help the uninsured, mind you, but to make legislators pay a little more for their benefits.

The move seems to be an attempt to immunize politicians against allegations of hypocrisy.

Despite pushback from Scott and other state officials, there  has been news that premiums for health insurance within the Obamacare exchange will be cheaper than was first expected, making health care much more affordable in the state.

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