Florida’s answer to the Affordable Care Act, a mini-health-exchange that will sell discount cards and other products to “fill benefit gaps,” says it will open for business in a few days.
Florida Health Choices, six years in the making, will sell products that cannot be called “insurance” because they don’t meet the legal definition. And they will not satisfy the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that most Americans have health coverage.
Instead, discount plans are intended mainly for small employers that can’t afford comprehensive health insurance.
Florida Health Choices’ first vendor, according to board documents, is Careington International, based in Texas. It will offer discount cards for a variety of services that are sometimes missing from health insurance or carry large deductibles.
Careington discount plans will be available as single-service or bundled plans. The services available for discount cards include: prescriptions, vision and dental care, 24-hour phone access to a nurse, telemedicine, chiropractic and alternative medicine, and others.
Last Friday, the Health Choices board met in Orlando to approve the much-delayed launch. Ithas been delayed several times because, as Executive Director Rose Naff said, she didn’t want to take a chance on having the kind of electronic glitch that plagued Healthcare.gov and the state’s unemployment portal, CONNECT.
But if it opens quickly, the state portal can take advantage of delays in implementation of some parts of the Affordable Care Act, including one that charges employers a penalty if they don’t provide coverage that meets the requirements of the law. Also delayed is a version of Healthcare.gov tailored to businesses.
Board Chairman Durell Peaden said that because of the federal delays, “we have accelerated our plans to expand the type and number of products offered.”
Under the Affordable Care Act, Florida could have gotten federal funds to build its own health-insurance marketplace, where consumers could compare full-service plans. But the Legislature turned down that offer.
And because of a decision this past Spring to not expand the state’s Medicaid program, Health Choices will have a many more potential customers for its products. The U.S. Supreme Court decided states could opt out of the law’s expansion of Medicaid to cover those who have incomes below the federal poverty line, and that’s what Florida did.
As a result, about 1 million of the 4 million uninsured in Florida will not be covered by Medicaid and will not qualify for subsidies to enroll in Healthcare.gov. A substantial number of illegal immigrants also will be potential customers, since they are ineligible for Healthcare.gov.
Choices is launching its portal with just the one vendor, Careington, but expects to offer other vendors and other products later in the year, Naff said. Two dental plans and two health insurers are among those that have been approved but not yet available for purchase.
The state marketplace has been a long time coming. It was the brainchild of Marco Rubio, now a U.S. Senator, when he was still in the state legislature. As Health News Florida reported four years ago, Rubio touted the Choices plan when he was running for the Senate. He cast it s an alternative to what would become the Affordable Care Act.
The site has received about $2.4 million in state funds to date, the Fort Myers News-Press reports. It is designed to be self-supporting, charging vendors 2.5 percent tor any sales.