9 Investigates former Orange County employees getting free healthcare

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ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. - 9 Investigates uncovered fired Orange County employees were getting free health care, and taxpayers paid for it.

A recent audit revealed more than $300,000 in health care benefits were improperly given because no one entered termination dates into the system for weeks or even months.

Eyewitness News started asking questions and found out what the county is doing now to fix the problem.

Jeff Wood owns a small business and can't afford health insurance for his employees.

"The insurance would go so high we couldn't keep up with them, so what we did was give them a raise so they can pay for their own insurance," Wood said.

Woods is paying more to go to the doctor, and as an Orange County taxpayer, he also paid for county employees to get medical care after they left their jobs or were fired.

"It's apparent someone is asleep at the wheel," Wood said.

A recent audit showed Orange County paid $317,000 in claims for terminated employees in 2009 and 2010.

"That money is gone, and I don't think they are ever going to recover it," Wood said.

Auditors found termination dates were not entered into the system for weeks or months, or they were entered incorrectly.

Orange County comptroller Martha Haynie said her auditors used new, sophisticated software to analyze more than a million claims.

"That's one of the things we were unhappy to find but glad we discovered it," Haynie said.

When they compared the dates employees went to the doctor with payroll data, they realized terminated employees were getting free health care.

"We think it's [a] problem that needs to be fixed," Haynie said.

Eyewitness News tried to find out the source of the breakdown.

The director of Orange County's human resources wouldn't place blame but did say as soon as it came to his attention, his office made changes to identify terminated employees and end their benefits.

"We now have opportunity to identify those and correct it in the system so we are only paying for claims that are eligible," Ricardo Daye, director of human resources said.

Daye said the health care given to terminated employees is less than 1 percent of total claims.

Even so, Woods said it's taxpayer money.

"They need to act like it's their money being wasted at $300,000," Wood said.

Not all terminated employees were fired. Some of them quit, retired or left the health care plan.

The county couldn't recover the money lost in 2009 and 2010 but now has the ability to get money back when claims are improperly paid.

The comptroller said this proves the system of checks and balances works.

She said that new software is helping her team analyze data more quickly so county problems can be detected and corrected.