By Barbara Liston
ORLANDO, Fla. Feb 7 Florida's own health
insurance marketplace, long touted by Republican lawmakers as a
free-market solution to providing affordable health coverage, is
expected to launch as early as next week.
Six years in the making, Florida Health Choices will open
for business with an inventory of products that cannot legally
be marketed using the words insurance, coverage, benefits or
premiums, according to Chief Executive Officer Rose Naff.
The brainchild of U.S. Senator Marco Rubio while he was a
state legislative leader in 2008, Florida Health Choices has
been held up by advocates as a better alternative to President
Obama's signature Affordable Care Act.
Signed into law in 2010, the U.S. Affordable Care Act, also
known as Obamacare, went live on Oct. 1 and by late January had
enrolled 3 million people.
The law created state-based online health insurance
exchanges that opened on Oct. 1 for coverage on Jan. 1 and sell
plans with minimum benefit requirements.
The Florida products do not meet the comprehensive
requirements of Obamacare, and Naff said there is no timetable
for Florida Health Choices to offer broader insurance plans that
meet the new federal benefit standards.
Subsidies provided in the federal program would also not be
available through the state site.
"We are not competing with the federal exchanges," Naff
Naff said Florida Health Choices initially will make
available five types of discount cards that offer purchasers a
better deal on certain dental, vision, prescription or
The cards, which are offered by Careington International
based in Frisco, Texas, will cost $6 to $25 a month, depending
on the services selected.
Naff said other products, including limited-benefit
insurance plans, which focus on single medical issues such as
cancer or vision, will be rolled out at a later date.
Florida is one of 36 states where the federal government is
running the exchange, called HealthCare.gov. The other 14 states
run their own exchanges.
Naff said there are 1.3 million people in Florida who are
uninsured and ineligible for subsidies in the federal
Florida has about 3.8 million uninsured people, or about 20
percent of its population, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Florida's Governor Rick Scott signed off on state funding of
Florida Health Choices while trying to block the Affordable Care
Act and rejecting millions of federal dollars to implement it in
Florida led the legal challenge against Obamacare, but the
U.S. Supreme Court in 2012 upheld most provisions of the act.
Scott continued to throw roadblocks in the way of
Obamacare, banning "navigators," volunteers who help consumers
sign up for insurance in the federal marketplace, from operating
out of state-funded county health departments.
The state marketplace was No. 87 in Rubio's 2006 book, "100
Innovative Ideas for Florida's Future," published months before
he took over as leader of the Florida House. Rubio made the
marketplace a priority and obtained $1.5 million in start-up
funding in 2008. Another $900,000 of state funding was awarded
"Florida Health Choices is a program based on principles
ObamaCare violated," a spokeswoman for Rubio said in a statement
on Friday. "There are no mandates, trillions in new spending,
or bureaucratic rules to come between patients and their
doctors," she added.
Greg Mellowe, policy director at Florida CHAIN, a statewide
consumer health advocacy group, said the state's version
provided "an illusion of coverage."
"In some cases, these things are not insurance at all,"
Naff said potential Florida Health Choices customers are
525,000 adults who make too much money to qualify for Medicaid.
Those same people would qualify for Medicaid coverage if
Florida's Republican-dominated legislature would accept $51
billion from the federal government to expand Medicaid's income
guidelines, Naff said.
The legislature, whose leaders fought the Affordable Care
Act, declined the money in 2013.
Other potential customers are about 800,000 non-citizens
living in the state who are not eligible under the Affordable
Care Act, Naff said.