Florida lawmakers continue to weigh whether to implement optional parts of the federal healthcare overhaul law. That includes the questions of if, when and how to set up an online website where people can shop and compare insurance plans. Many have suggested converting some of the state’s existing programs.
"It really makes no sense to compete with a subsidized insurance offering,” says Florida Health Choices CEO Rose Naff.
Florida Health Choices was created by lawmakers a few years ago to serve small businesses. It’s similar to the insurance exchanges outlined in the federal Affordable Care Act, but without all the regulations on what product can and can’t be offered. Some have suggested it could be remade into the state’s insurance exchange. During a joint hearing of House and Senate committees looking into the Affordable Care Act Monday, Senator Joe Negron says he understands Naff’s concern:
“If I have a choice to go onto Florida Health Choices or the Exchange, wouldn’t I go to the exchange Because the one thing you don’t offer is a subsidy?” He said.
The federal government will subsidize the cost of health insurance plans offered in exchanges that comply with its terms. Florida Health Choices does not. Naff says the company might be able to survive if it looked at other areas not addressed by the law. But when asked by Senator David Simmons, R-Maitland, about whether the company could be ready to meet federal exchange rules in a year, Naff said no:
“I’ve built half of one so far, and I think it’s an unreasonable thing...a lot of people wouldn’t sleep at night," she said.
Simmons posed a similar question to the state’s other exchange possibility: Florida Healthy Kids, which serves low-income children and others. Simmons wants to know about a possible merger between the two and Florida Healthy Kids CEO Rich Robleto says he thinks that’s a possibility:
“I do believe if we made a decision soon we could be ready for an open enrollment period by next October," Robleto said.
That's October 2014. But that’s only if state lawmakers approve the operation. And Governor Rick Scott, who has been a vocal opponent of the healthcare law, would still have to sign off on it. The legislature will continue weighing its options throughout the upcoming legislative session.
*Clarification: In addition to administering the Children's Health Insurance Program for low-income children, called CHIP, Florida Healthy Kids offers other insurance products for families who are not Medicaid eligible.