Health Care

Florida’s health insurance marketplace to offer Obamacare plans

Adilia Martinez reads over a pamphlet, written in Spanish, about the different plans offered by the Affordable Care Act at the Jessie Trice Community Health Center last year
Adilia Martinez reads over a pamphlet, written in Spanish, about the different plans offered by the Affordable Care Act at the Jessie Trice Community Health Center last year MIAMI HERALD STAFF

Florida’s little-used health insurance marketplace will start selling plans that comply with the Affordable Care Act in the next few weeks, said Rose Naff, the marketplace’s CEO, even though Gov. Rick Scott opposes the health law.

“The vast majority of Floridians do not qualify for federal subsidies but federal law still mandates that they purchase health insurance,” said Naff, who runs the state exchange, Florida Health Choices. “We want to provide consumers who don’t use healthcare.gov with easy access to comprehensive health insurance.”

The plans will be made available for consumers to browse at floridahealthchoices.net.

Naff said four insurers had agreed to offer comprehensive plans but wouldn’t name them because negotiations have not yet been finalized.

Until now, Florida Health Choices has only sold limited benefit and discount plans that offered dental, vision, prescription and other services. The state marketplace opened to little interest from consumers last spring, selling only 49 plans, Naff said. The program had a budget of nearly $800,000 last year.

This year, with the new Obamacare offerings, Florida Health Choices is hoping for more customers. “I’d be tickled pink if we got 1,000 people,” Naff said. “I’d be happy if we got 100.”

“It’s all about free enterprise,” said state Sen. Eleanor Sobel, a Broward Democrat who served as vice chair of the Senate Select Committee on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. “They are a business. They are doing what they need to sustain themselves, make a profit and grow.”

Under Scott, Florida was one of several states that challenged the constitutionality of the ACA in a lawsuit that reached the Supreme Court. The state also turned down about $1million in federal funds to set up an exchange that would offer federal subsidies.

John Tupps, a spokesman for Scott, declined to comment on whether the governor supports the use of state funds to sell health coverage under a law he opposes. “Governor Scott believes that Obamacare is a bad law and many of its promises have been proven false,” Tupps said.

State legislators, led by former Florida House speaker and current U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, created Florida Health Choices in 2008 as a voluntary marketplace for Floridians to purchase coverage. It operates independently of the federal exchange at healthcare.gov, which almost a million Floridians used to sign up for coverage in 2014, and unlike the federal exchange does not offer subsidies.

It is unfortunate that Obamacare is impacting the Florida Health Choices program, which is exactly the kind of innovative, consumer-based healthcare solution Americans are looking for,” said Brooke Sammon, a spokeswoman for Rubio.

The state’s decision to offer Obamacare plans was first reported by the website SaintPetersblog.com.

State Rep. José Javier Rodríguez, a Miami Democrat, called the news “an acknowledgment that the ideas underpinning Obamacare really aren’t controversial.”

“It was something that became controversial” for political reasons, he said.

Naff had hoped the federal government would aid the state’s efforts by allowing consumers shopping on the state’s website to automatically transfer their application to healthcare.gov if they qualify for a subsidy.

Naff said she contacted the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services about setting up a web interface but had not been offered assistance.

“My repeated request for information and a technical meeting to discuss this option have been futile,” Naff wrote in a Dec.1 letter to HHS Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell.

HHS did not respond to a request for comment.

Florida Health Choices has asked its board of directors — which includes members appointed by the governor, the House and the Senate — for a budget of more than $833,000 next year, including $130,000 to help advertise its new comprehensive health plans. The board will vote to approve or deny the budget on Friday.

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This article was produced in collaboration with Kaiser Health News, an editorially independent program of the Kaiser Family Foundation.

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