(News-Press.com) - Florida has famously spurned the Affordable Care Act, including its option to create a customized insurance-buying website connecting the state's residents to federally subsidized policies.
But, somewhat under the radar, the state has been readying an insurance exchange separate from Obamacare's healthcare.gov. Florida Health Choices (myfloridachoices.org) is similarly designed to connect people to yet-unspecified policies when it goes online this month or next.
Rose Naff, CEO of Florida Health Choices, said it will target small business owners and adults seeking gap coverage not provided by the federal health law or employer-sponsored plans, including adult dental care.
"The majority of Floridians are not buying on healthcare.gov. They're buying in the private market, which is where we fit," she said. "We're not competing with the federal government."
Florida Health Choices is likely "days away" from opening, Naff said. It will start with a few plans and slowly expand over the year, she said.
The federal exchange offers subsidized insurance policies for U.S. residents making up to 400 percent of the Federal Poverty Level annually, or about $94,200 for a family of four.
Like the healthcare.gov, Florida Health Choices will allow individuals and businesses to compare prices and sign up online, Naff said. Notably, though, it will not provide any subsidized plans.
Florida's website does have a "Where Should We Shop for Health Insurance Now?" tab that, if a user clicks it enough times, offers a link to healthcare.gov.
Policies on the federal exchange come with a 3.5 percent surcharge. The Florida Health Choices rate will be 2.5 percent, potentially giving it a competitive edge in certain cases.
But Florida CHAIN, a patient advocacy group, is not impressed with the concept. Greg Mellowe, its policy director, said the site's trademarked "Florida Health Insurance Marketplace" label is "meaningless" and may confuse insurance shoppers.
"Rather, the products that Florida Health Choices will attempt to market to individual consumers include discount medical plan organizations, prepaid health clinics and prepaid limited health service organizations," Mellowe said. "These products do not provide comprehensive coverage in any way, shape or form - in many cases, they aren't coverage at all."
The federal health law requires most uninsured U.S. residents to sign up for a qualified employer-sponsored plan, a taxpayer-supported plan such as Medicaid or individually buy a policy.
About 4 million Floridians were without coverage before the insurance mandate took effect this year.
It's unclear what plans the site will offer. Florida Blue and Florida Health Choices have announced they will provide some small business coverage on the site. Argus Dental and Liberty Dental have also said they will participate.
Naff said Florida Health Choices will soon make announcements about statewide discount and limited-benefit plans and prepaid clinic plans, which include three offerings in south Florida.
Florida Blue, the state's largest health insurer, only commented about the site by releasing a prepared statement:
"Florida Blue supports efforts to increase access to health care coverage in the state. Given that, Florida Blue is engaged in discussions with Florida Health Choices, and we are hopeful that our plans will be offered on its platform in the near future."
The state Legislature gave the insurance marketplace $1.5 million in startup funding in 2008, after getting the backing of then-Florida House Speaker Marco Rubio. It got another $900,000 last year. As of this week the site was still in development and testing.
Florida Health Choices developers have promised a 98.5 percent availability for users.
Said Naff: "I will not launch a website unless it works."