Crist's state health plan criticized

08/19/08 Seán Kinane
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About one-quarter of Florida adults younger than 65 do not have health insurance. Earlier this year, Gov. Charlie Crist initiated a program he hopes will bring affordable insurance to some of the state's 3.7 million uninsured residents.

The bare-bones health policy will cost up to $150 per month, and will have high deductibles and low limits on coverage. Critics say the program, called Cover Florida, will not help enough people.

Sterling Ivey, a spokesperson for Crist, defended the program. “The Cover Florida program is a unique way to offer health insurance for nearly 4 million uninsured Floridians ... It involves facilitating private insurance companies offering policies directly to consumers in Florida.”

Yesterday the state’s Agency for Health Care Administration announced the nine companies that have submitted bid proposals to provide Cover Florida insurance to Floridians.

In July, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities released a report critical of the Cover Florida plan. The report’s author, Judith Solomon, told WMNF that there are two reasons why she thinks Cover Florida will “fall short.”

“Number one is that in Florida, like other states, about two-thirds of people without insurance have income below twice the poverty line. … It’s pretty clear that people at that income level need subsidies to afford coverage, even coverage at 150 dollars a month, which would be the cheapest Cover Florida policy, apparently.”

The other reason is that even people who could afford to purchase Cover Florida insurance would be underinsured, she said. The program does not require that insurers cover certain conditions that other carriers must cover. “People who do enroll in … Florida’s bare-bones plans will still be at risk for high out-of-pocket costs and unpaid medical bills,” according to Solomon.

Solomon said that not many people opt to purchase minimal-coverage insurance programs like Cover Florida. One such example is Florida’s unpopular Health Flex program, which only has about 2,300 participants, mostly in three counties that offer subsidies, according to the Tampa Tribune.

A Tribune editorial earlier this month also criticized Cover Florida. “Unfortunately, the plan is another example of Crist nibbling at the edges of a big problem instead of addressing the challenge head-on in comprehensive fashion,” The Tribune wrote.

Crist’s spokesperson, Sterling Ivey, responded to the criticism.

“It’s probably premature to judge the scope of the program before the bids are opened and analyzed which they were yesterday. As our initial review of the bids that came in, we have two insurance companies that may be able to provide statewide coverage and then several insurance companies that may be able to provide a regional-type policy. We’re still looking at the details and as soon as we’ve had a chance to review them I think we’re going to be in a good shape for offering health insurance to Floridians beginning in January.”

Several major insurance companies did not submit a proposal for the Cover Florida contract. Mitch Lubitz is a Humana spokesperson based in Tampa and said they already have a low-cost, high deductible plan. Lubitz doubts that the governor’s program will help solve the problem of millions of uninsured Floridians.

Ivey said the state will review the nine proposals submitted by insurance companies for Cover Florida. The details of their proposals will be made public Sept. 8.

Cover Florida

Center on Budget and Policy Priorities report on Cover Florida

Agency for Health Care Administration

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Sept 8 ?

"... will be made public Sept. 8" ????? I thought this was the "Govt-in-the-Sunshine" State, and Charlie Crist was the "Open Government" Governor. It would be exceptionally surprising to me to learn that state "regulators" (bureaucrats with bigger sticks than normal) have a monopoly on the expertise to analyze and dissect these proposals, and opine on which permutations of ingredients would be most attractive or valuable (not the same thing) to un-insured Floridians (a class of citizens into which they themselves, notably, do not fall). It might not be easily manageable or controllable, but this is EXACTLY the kind of issue that benefits from an active, open, PUBLIC examination and debate. If the first time the public gets to see this it's in a polished and buffed sanitary PowerPoint wrapper, that would be unfortunate.