Florida fights healthcare bill; still has to comply

Tallahassee, FL – Florida is fighting the federal healthcare law in the courts but the state still has to comply with what's already in the law. Several major provisions of the healthcare reform act have to be in place by 2014, and as Lynn Hatter reports, the state is looking at ways to get started.

Republicans lawmakers don't like the federal healthcare law, but they still have to implement it- at least for now. One key part calls for the creation of a health insurance exchange- like the priceline negotiator, for healthcare. Florida has been working on something similar. The program is called Florida Health Choices, and was set up by the legislature in 2008 for small business. But Florida Association of Health Plans head Dr. Michael Garner says the program hasn't had much support until now.

"Past administrations, even though they signed it into law but there wasn't a lot of activity around it. With the current administration giving direction that the support the marketplace and see it as a viable alternative, I think it will be successful moving forward."

When Health Choices was set up, the legislature gave it a one-time 1.5 million dollar allocation for start-up costs, most of which is still in the bank. State Representative John Wood, who chairs a Health and Human Service Committee, says the exchange could become the go-to place for consumers looking for coverage.

"We are in a policy decision mode of do we form our own exchange, do we fight for reform of the reform, do we let the feds come in there are a lot of different issues this legislature has to decide on. And it would be helpful to know if we have a marketplace solution brewing, is your organization prepared to step forward into that role."

Health Choices Executive Director Rose Naff says it could happen.

"We'd have to have a better understanding of federal expectations of a state-run exchange are, and we'd have to amend the current law the marketplace is operating under, you probably want to start from scratch with a new law and replace ours with something else I do believe we can."

Dr. Garner says a big difference between the federal and state programs is that Florida Health Choices allows all kinds of plans, while the federal program sets a floor of essential benefits its plans must include.

"And so that's going to drive a uniform health plan that's going to be delivered through those exchanges. We believe Florida Health Choices will be a much more responsible mechanism. We would hope the Federal government will look at that and say, we'll this gives a broader array of choices and say they'll allow it to operate."

But he says there's something both programs have to watch out for- making sure there are enough healthy people in the system to keep costs low.

"If you don't find a way to encourage people without serious healthcare conditions to participate, ultimately it will only attract people that have serious medical conditions that are going to make it difficult to keep the rates at a level that is affordable for all."

In order to get Florida Health Choices to align with federal requirements lawmakers would have to re-work the statute that created it, or start from scratch. It's supposed to be up and running by the Summer of 2012. The federal requirements don't kick in until 2014.