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State Launches Health Choices Program

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After several delays, the troubled Florida Health Choices program on Tuesday launched a website selling niche health products, ones which are separate from the Affordable Care Act marketplace.

The launch was delayed last month after higher-than-anticipated interest in the website prompted technology experts to retool it. But CEO Rose Naff announced it is open for business with a single vendor and offers five different plans, including a prescription discount card and bundled discount products that includes vision, dental, telemedicine and prescriptions.

The program is separate from Obama's federal health law and will not offer tax credits. Consumers seeking to buy insurance on the federal exchange who mistakenly end up on Florida Health Choices' site will be directed to healthcare.gov.

For now, major insurers have not signed on to offer plans through Florida Health Choices and coverage under the program will not count as comprehensive health coverage under the Affordable Care Act.

Instead, Florida Health Choices will cater to consumers who don't like the president's law or may be seeking gap coverage, pharmacy discount cards and limited vision or dental plans.

The program will add more vendors going forward, which will provide coverage for prepaid health clinics, primary care and outpatient visits. Florida Health Choices also hopes to offer some type of coverage to the roughly 1 million Floridians who make a bit too much money to qualify under stringent Medicaid standards, but not enough to qualify for tax credits through the federal exchange.

Naff said she learned from the bungled rollout of the federal health law and delayed the launch several times to ensure the website was ready. Site capacity was increased to handle 30,000 users a day, including 1,000 simultaneous applications, she said.

Critics have complained that Florida Health Choices, the brainchild of former House Speaker Marco Rubio, started in 2008 but doesn't have a single enrollee more than five years later.

Republicans, many who were eager to an alternative to so-called "Obamacare," have championed the program. Lawmakers have given Florida Health Choices about $1.5 million over the years.

Florida Health Choices hopes to enroll 67,000 consumers in its first year to break even. Naff said she isn't planning to ask lawmakers for additional money this year.