Florida's health-insurance website still all expenses, no revenue

1:02 PM, Feb 25, 2014   |    comments
Screenshot of the MyFloridaChoices.org website
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Fort Myers, Florida (News-Press) -- Florida has spent nearly six years trying to get its insurance-buying website off the ground. The biggest expenditure for the taxpayer-funded project during that time? Staff salaries.

Florida Health Choices, which plans to offer gap coverage and health discount cards, has used about $1.4 million of the $2.4 million the Legislature has appropriated, according to figures released to the News-Press under the state's open records law. Nearly two-thirds went to payroll.

More specifically, Florida Health Choices has spent $897,518 for a staff of two people: the $126,000-a-year CEO Rose Naff and an administrative director who earns $55,000. The overall figure includes payroll services, taxes and employee benefits, Naff said.

Otherwise, the program's largest line items included: contract services, including legal expenses, accounting, auditing, and other consulting ($496,606); travel and meetings ($74,788); facilities and equipment ($72,807); other operational costs ($63,122); and marketing and outreach ($60,090).

Florida strongly opposed the 2010 Affordable Care Act and has resisted many of its measures, including an expansion of Medicaid eligibility and the option to set up a federally affiliated website. Florida Health Choices is thus separate from healthcare.gov, the insurance exchanges that Floridians may use to buy comprehensive health coverage under the Obamacare law.

Naff told reporters recently that the site will likely go fully online in the coming weeks. In January, she had promised to switch it on by Feb. 14.

Naff blames higher-than-expected public interest on the delays. She said "thousands" of visitors checked out the site in February, instead of the expected hundreds. Naff said she worried those kinds of numbers might overwhelm the site.

Given the federal exchange and its subsidized policies, critics of Florida Health Choices say it is a waste of money and won't offer health coverage that Floridians actually need.

The state Legislature appropriated $1.5 million for the Florida Health Choices project in 2008, after it received the backing of then-state House Speaker Marco Rubio. Lawmakers provided the site another $900,000 last year.

Florida Health Choices received another $250,000 in a legal settlement with Ceridian, the company it had initially contracted to build the site. They parted ways in March 2012. The settlement dealdoes not place blame on either side for the severance. Nor does either party admit breaching the terms of its 2010 contract.

Delays aside, Rubio spokeswoman Brooke Sammon praised Florida Health Choices as a good alternative to Affordable Care Act regulations.

"There are no mandates, trillions in new spending, or bureaucratic rules to come between patients and their doctors," Sammon said. "At a time when Floridians are suffering under the many consequences of Obamacare's failures, it's encouraging to see a voluntary, market-based program like this continue to move forward."

Naff said the program has no plans to seek additional money from the state.

"(Florida Health Choices) has not submitted a budget request nor do we expect to request one," Naff said. "When the Marketplace is open the FHC will earn a surcharge on products and services sold that will not exceed 2.5 (percent) and is intended to fund future operations."

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