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Crist: KidCare? Not mine

By Christine Jordan Sexton
9/29/2009 © Health News Florida

Gov. Charlie Crist told two national cable news programs this morning that his Cover Florida program could serve as a model for national reform -- even though the number of Floridians without insurance has actually grown since it started -- and distanced himself from his previous support for the Florida KidCare program. Crist is running for the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate against a conservative.

He described Cover Florida as “compassionate; it's the right thing to do and it’s done in the private sector,” on Fox & Friends. “I think that Washington could learn a lot from Florida.”


On CNN, when queried about the Florida KidCare program—which uses federal dollars to help subsidize insurance premiums—a startled Crist said he inherited it from his predecessor, former Gov. Jeb Bush.
The use of federal dollars to support health insurance and the inclusion of a public option are part of the health care reform debate at the national level.
Social services lobbyist Karen Woodall said the Crist administration coordinated outreach activities to find children who were eligible for the program but weren’t enrolled. The administration also supported legislation that removed administrative barriers that often kept children out of the program she said.
Woodall said the Crist administration’s policy to find and enroll children in the program was a “refreshing” change from Gov. Jeb Bush, who once limited enrollment in the program to an annual basis, only.
“(The Crist administration) was a big shift from Gov Bush,” said Woodall. “He’s been pretty supportive,” of children’s health care.
Woodall opined that he distanced himself from the children’s health insurance program because “when push comes to shove they realize they have inconsistent messages.”
In his second legislative session as governor Crist made health care access his top priority and unveiled his Cover Florida program. It allows individuals to buy pared back health insurance plans regardless of health status.
While Crist’s program was initially supported by Florida Democrats, he publicly tussled with members of his own party, namely former House Speaker Marco Rubio, who wanted to develop a regulation-free marketplace for employers, called Florida Health Choices.
The compromise: the Legislature in 2008 passed both programs to take aim at Florida’s high percentage of uninsured residents – about one in four between ages 18 and 64.

But neither program has made a significant dent in the number of uninsured residents.
Cover Florida, which went into effect in January, accounted for about 4,130 policies as of July 31, the latest available data show. State Sen. Dan Gelber, who initially supported the plan, now calls it cosmetic.
The other program, Florida Health Choices, doesn’t even have any insurance programs or employers signed up to participate yet. Its supporters have criticized Crist’s delays in making appointments to its board, which began holding meetings in April.

Crist and Rubio remain political foes and are squaring off in the Republican primary for the United State Senate.
Cover Florida is a success, Crist told Fox News & Friends, because he aggressively negotiated with health insurance companies to provide the Cover Florida insurance product. Through tough negotiations, he said, the state was able to lower the average costs of health insurance from $900 nationally to just an average $150 through the Cover Florida program.

The $150 price is for the “catastrophic” health plan, which omits many common primary-care services. The price varies by gender, age and geography.

It is not clear where Crist got the $900 figure. It is more than twice as high as the figures listed in studies published recently by national foundations, although those are for employer-sponsored insurance.
Crist appeared on CNN, Fox & Friends and MSNBC’s Morning Joe, where he discussed his campaign for the Senate nomination against Rubio and answered questions on earlier remarks in which he likened President Obama to one-term  President Jimmy Carter.

Crist didn’t mention health care on the Morning Joe program.

--Christine Jordan Sexton is co-founder of TallahasseeReporters.com.