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Florida's Insurance Exchange Solution: Florida Health Choices or Healthy Kids?

Florida legislative leaders have sent letters to the federal government saying they can’t make a decision on health insurance exchanges right now. Lynn Hatter reports the state had until Friday to inform the feds of whether it would set up its own healthcare marketplace, or leave it up to the government. The Obama Administration now says the deadline has been pushed out to December.

After more than two years of opposition to the federal healthcare overhaul law, Florida’s Republican leaders are now saying they plan to take it up during the upcoming legislative session.  That’s too late to meet many of the deadlines set by the law, including whether to start a state run health insurance exchange. Incoming Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford and his Senate Counterpart have sent a letter to the federal government asking for more time to evaluate the exchanges and requesting more information about them.

“We should be looking out for our consumers and we should be looking out for our state and doing what’s best for them. The problem is, there are hundreds of unanswered questions about the implementation of the Affordable Care Act," Weatherford told reporters earlier in the week.  

Under the federal healthcare law, if states don’t set up their own exchanges, the federal government will do so in their place. There’s also an option for a federal and state partnership, although it’s not clear how that would work. Lawmakers want to know things like whether an exchange would let health plans operate by region and how providers would be charged for their participation. And that question is important, because the state already has something like an exchange. It actually has two: Florida Health Choices, and Florida Healthy Kids

Incoming Senate President Don Gaetz says both programs currently feature regional health plans, and "We think that there’s a possibility at least, that through the existing exchanges we’ve already set up, that a partnership with the federal government  could result in some cost savings and some additional options for Florida families.”   

Florida Health Choices and Florida Healthy Kids were created prior to the passage of the federal healthcare law. They are online marketplaces where consumers can shop and compare plans and essentially perform many of the functions that are outlined in the federal health insurance exchanges. Florida Health Choices is for small businesses, and Healthy Kids is for low-income families and those participating in children's Medicaid program.

The state faces a December 14th deadline to submit an application for a state run exchange, and a February 15th deadline for a federal-state hybrid program.