Health Care

Stop using our phrase, Florida’s little known insurance exchange says

Florida’s own insurance exchange is not as big or as popular as the federal government’s version at healthcare.gov, which remains the only platform where Sunshine State consumers can receive financial aid to pay for a health plan.

Nearly 1.3 million Floridians so far have signed up using the federal exchange, while fewer than 100 customers have enrolled through the state’s lesser-known marketplace, Florida Health Choices.

But both exchanges have something in common: an identical phrase to promote their products, “The Health Insurance Marketplace.’’

Now, Health Choices wants groups using that specific combination of words to promote the federal exchange to scrub the phrase from their websites, pamphlets and other promotional media — or risk legal action.

In a stern letter mailed to presidents of 11 nonprofits across the state on Thursday, Health Choices CEO Rose Naff warned the groups that their use of the phrase “The Health Insurance Marketplace” infringes on legal trademark protections.

“Your use of the slogan without permission dilutes the effectiveness of our promotional campaigns and is a source of confusion for our intended audience,’’ Naff writes in the letter.

Having been ignored by the groups when she first dispatched a similar letter on Dec. 23, Naff advised them in Thursday’s follow-up missive to consult with an attorney, noting that trademark infringement is punishable by “substantial financial penalties.’’

“We would hope not to have to do that,’’ Naff said Thursday by telephone after Health Choices mailed the letters and issued a press release asserting the need to protect its brand and avoid confusion for consumers.

Naff said in an interview that she did not send a similar letter to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which runs federal exchange, because “State law does not extend to Washington, D.C.’’

She emphasized that the groups receiving letters are “doing important work,’’ but explained that since Jan. 5 — when Health Choices began selling plans that comply with coverage requirements under the Affordable Care Act — the state exchange has spent about $75,000 on radio ads, freeway billboard and other promotional efforts.

“We have to spend more,’’ she said, “to get what we would have gotten if we didn’t have this unfair use of our slogan by others.’’

Karen Egozi, president of the Epilepsy Foundation of Florida, a nonprofit that received an $871,000 grant from the Department of Health and Human Services to counsel consumers shopping for plans on the federal exchange, is one of the few group presidents who replied to Naff’s initial letter in December.

Compliance was simple, said Egozi, who did not receive a letter Thursday. “All I did,’’ she said, “was take out the ‘the’ [from the phrase ‘The Health Insurance Marketplace’].’’

Still, some Florida healthcare industry experts said, Health Choices is making much ado about nothing.

“This is a waste of energy and resources,’’ said Linda Quick, president of the industry trade group, South Florida Hospital and Healthcare Association, which represents dozens of members.

Quick criticized the state exchange for selling “something less than real insurance,’’ she said, referring to the fact that until Jan. 5 Health Choices sold only limited benefit and discount plans for dental, vision, prescription and other services.

“Ownership of a term like ‘the Health Insurance Marketplace’ doesn’t seem very important in the larger scheme of things,’’ Quick said. “What’s important is that people have choices, and that real health insurance remain affordable.’’

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