Politics & Government

Florida taxpayers foot bill for Gov. Crist, top lawmakers' health care subsidy

Top Florida lawmakers are balking at Congress' plans to help more poor people get health care, though they've protected an entitlement of their own: free insurance premiums.

Taxpayers have been stuck with covering the premiums — at a cost of about $45 million a year — even while lawmakers pledged to scrimp as they grappled with three straight years of budget shortfalls.

Florida doesn't limit the subsidies to statewide officeholders like Gov. Charlie Crist and Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink, or to legislators like Senate President Jeff Atwater and House Speaker Larry Cretul. About 27,479 state employees -- many of them high-level bureaucrats and political appointees -- also get the break. So do their families.

"I think it's appropriate. I think it's part of the compensation package for a public servant," Crist said. "It's a policy that has been supported by the Legislature and I'm comfortable with it."

The governor plans to add his wife of nearly one year, wealthy businesswoman and philanthropist Carole Crist, as well as her two daughters from a previous marriage to his health plan on Jan. 1. The girls attend an all-girls private school in New York and live with their father, who owns a jet-rental company.

"There is not a residency requirement for coverage," explained Crist spokesman Sterling Ivey.

Only six other states offer free insurance premiums to some employees and their families, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Even members of Congress pay monthly fees for health benefits.

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