Despite GOP opposition, Florida site will sell Obamacare plans

Published December 3 2014

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 federal health law.

"We want to provide consumers who don't use healthcare.gov with easy access to comprehensive health insurance,'' Naff said.

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

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

Until now, Florida Health Choices has only sold limited benefit and discount plans, and has sold only 49 plans, Naff said. The program had a budget of nearly $800,000 last 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," said Naff. "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 $1 million in federal funds to set up an exchange.

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. It operates independently of the federal exchange at healthcare.gov, which almost 1 million Floridians used to sign up for coverage in 2014. Unlike the federal exchange, Florida Health Choices does not offer subsidies.

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

The state's decision to offer ACA 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.

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

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

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