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Experts Tell FL Lawmakers: Just Do It

An expert on health insurance exchanges told Florida lawmakers  today they made a mistake in not deciding to build a state-based exchange under the Affordable Care Act, leaving it to the federal government.

But it’s not too late to try for a state-federal partnership, and Florida should go for it, said Holli Ploog, vice president of CGI Government Markets.  Her company is contracting with the federal government and six states to build health exchanges, which consumers will be able to use beginning in October to buy coverage for 2014.

While there isn't time to build a Florida exchange by October, the federal government might be willing to contract with a private organization -- say, Florida Health Care Choices Inc.

Its executive director, Rose Naff, agreed with Ploog on the need to build an exchange. “The feds are providing 100 percent funding (through 2016) for the underlying platform,” which is expensive to build,  she said.  The more say-so the state has in the exchange, she said,  the more variety it can offer in products that will be available.

And if Florida doesn’t like being in a partnership with the federal government, it can opt out of it after a year without penalty, Naff said.

Most of the panelists also urged action on Medicaid expansion, when Rep. Richard Corcoran, the moderator, asked what the Legislature should do. Corcoran chairs the House Health & Human Services Committee.

“You have to take care of people who can’t take care of themselves,” said Jonathan C. Anderson, an executive for Florida  Blue. “So if that means Medicaid expansion, there’s a  lot of money there we could certainly use.” Florida Blue is the new name for the former Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Florida.

Under the Affordable Care Act, the federal government has offered states extra Medicaid match money if they expand the program for low-income people to cover more of the uninsured. Gov. Rick Scott has opposed the idea in the past, but after the election he said he would keep an open mind.

Naff agreed that in order to have a competitive insurance system and control costs, everyone has to be covered.  Otherwise, those who have insurance pay more and more to cover the cost of care for those who can’t pay.

For a good account of Thursday’s action at the summit, sponsored by the Associated Industries Foundation, see coverage in The Tampa Bay Times.

Carol Gentry, founder and special correspondent of Health News Florida, has four decades of experience covering health finance and policy, with an emphasis on consumer education and protection.