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 October 1 and by late January had enrolled 3
The law created state-based online health insurance exchanges that
opened on October 1 for coverage on January 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
Subsidies provided in the federal program would also not be
available through the state site.
"We are not competing with the federal exchanges," Naff said.
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 chiropractic services.
The cards, which are offered by Careington International based in
Frisco, Texas, will cost $6 to $25 a month, depending on the
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
Naff said there are 1.3 million people in Florida who are uninsured
and ineligible for subsidies in the federal marketplace.
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 the state.
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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
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 in 2013.
"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," Mellowe
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
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
(Additional reporting by Zachary
Fagenson and Caroline Humer; editing by David Adams)
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