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Cover FL attracts midlife women

By Christine Jordan Sexton
3/25/2009 Florida Health News

TALLAHASSEE – Nearly 1,000 people, most of them middle-aged women, have signed up for a new state-promoted insurance program that requires participating companies to take all comers. 

Gov. Charlie Crist, who pushed the Cover Florida program last year, said Tuesday that the six insurance companies participating have fielded more than 10,000 calls from interested Floridians and that 952 people had enrolled as of March 15. 

That means slightly less than 10 percent of those who inquired took the plunge. But Crist pointed out that not everyone who inquires meets the enrollment guidelines.
“To every one of the 952 (enrollees), there is less worry, less concern and … a chance to sleep a little better at night,’’ he said. 

Most of the enrollees, who must be uninsured to qualify, chose Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Florida as their insurance carrier, according to information compiled by the state. It’s one of two companies authorized to sell Cover Florida plans statewide. 

The other statewide carrier, United Healthcare, enrolled just 155 people; United started a month later than Blue Cross.

Medica, a plan that operates in Miami-Dade, had 92 enrolled through Cover Florida and Florida Health Care Plan, an HMO that operates in Volusia and Flagler, had 68 enrollees. The remaining enrollees were spread among Total Health Choice and JMH. 

DeLand resident Trude Cole-Hill, 43, enrolled in Florida Health Care Plan’s Cover Florida program after being laid off from her job at the local bank. Cole-Hill said she and her husband couldn’t afford the $900 cost of COBRA, so they turned to Cover Florida after hearing about it from a friend. 

“I’ve always had health insurance,” said Cole-Hill, who added that the thought of being uninsured “was very disturbing. I didn’t want to go down that road.” 

She said she and her husband pay about $380 a month for a hospital and medical plan that covers most of their health care needs. Cole-Hill said that her husband’s primary care doctor was in the Cover Florida network and a referral to a specialist, which cost them $75, went smoothly. 

However, the plan didn’t cover her husband’s MRI. Cole-Hill wasn’t upset because she realized it was a limited plan and the test wouldn’t be covered. “It was a big expense, but I knew it,” she said. She considers the coverage temporary.

“It’s something to get us through until I am able to get on some group plan,” she said. “It’s been a relief." 

Cover Florida was passed by the Legislature last year as part of an effort to lower the number of uninsured Floridians. A recently released study by Families USA said there were 5.8 million Floridians who went without coverage at least part of the time in 2007 and 2008. 

People between the ages of 50 and 59 were the top purchasers of the plan; 287 people in that age group bought the insurance, according to a spread sheet. The age group 60 to 64 accounted for 235 Cover Florida enrollees. 

The under-40 age group accounted for 231 enrollees, divided nearly equally between the 19 through 29 age category and the 30 through 39 age category. 

Included in the Cover Florida legislation were a number of other initiatives that took aim at the uninsured, but their success to date appears limited. 

The Health Choices program, which will enable employers to buy health plans that don’t conform to state mandates, is in the early stages and has provided no plans for purchase yet. The board’s $1.5 million budget expires June 30. 

Another change in the law that increases the age for certain dependents to stay on their parents’ insurance plans up to age 30, also has faced problems. It’s not clear who makes the choice to extend dependent coverage, the employer or the employee, said Office of Insurance Regulation spokesman Ed Domansky. 

The Office of Insurance Regulation will hold a workshop this Thursday and decide after that whether a rule is needed, Domansky said.

--Contact Christine Jordan Sexton.