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After Years Of Delay, Florida's Insurance Marketplace Goes Live


Quietly and without much fanfare, Florida’s health insurance marketplace made its debut earlier this week, but it should not to be confused with the federal health insurance exchanges and Obamacare.

“We’re not in competition with the federal exchange. We’re not offering subsidies—those can only come from the federal exchange," says Florida Health Choices Director Rose Naff, who  is quick to point out the differences between the program she’s running—and that of the federal government.

In Florida Health Choices, you won’t find subsidies to purchase coverage. In fact, you won’t find any individual or group health insurance plans—that part of the marketplace is still in the works. What you will find are things NOT included in most health insurance plans—like prescription, dental and vision discounts. Naff calls it GAP coverage.

“There are a lot of insured people in Florida who don’t have everything covered that they want covered. So in filling those gaps became our next step.” 

Florida Health Choices was established in 2008—prior to the passage of the Federal Healthcare Law, Obamacare. It was the dream of then-House Speaker Marco Rubio. But the marketplace was dormant for two years. Now, three years after work began on the site it’s finally open for business, after several starts and stops. Products sold on Florida Health Choices aren’t a part of the federal health law, but its rules have still impacted the site along with the healthcare industry.

"So we had an isle in the grocery store and we knew a certain size box was coming, and that’s the shelving we built," said Naff. "Well, now the boxes have changed size and we’ve got to change the shelving. So, in order to support and sell those products, we have to change everything about the grocery store.” 

Eventually, Florida Health Choices will sell individual health policies and plans for small businesses. The people who purchase them will be the ones who don’t qualify for federal insurance subsidies, and those people says Naff, can be served through the Florida Marketplace—when it’s fully expanded:

“The number in the private market dwarfs the number buying on the federal exchange," she says. "We’re  talking a couple million in the federal exchange, and 14-16 million Floridians in the private market.”

Florida Health Choices has taken pains to distance itself from Obamacare. The site won’t start marketing until after Open Enrollment in the federal health insurance exchange is closed. Right now, there’s only one company offering products on the myhealthchoice.org website, a tiny fraction of the offerings on the federal government’s website, and there are disclaimers on nearly every page of Florida Health Choices: This is not insurance.

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Lynn Hatter is a Florida A&M University graduate with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Lynn has served as reporter/producer for WFSU since 2007 with education and health care issues as her key coverage areas.  She is an award-winning member of the Capital Press Corps and has participated in the NPR Kaiser Health News Reporting Partnership and NPR Education Initiative. 

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