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Due to demand, Florida Health Choices postpones debut yet again

TALLAHASSEE — The folks behind Florida's upcoming state-based health exchange say consumer interest is so overwhelming, they are yet again delaying opening it up for business.

It's not yet possible to buy health plans on the Florida Health Choices site. But Web traffic from people just checking it out has increased tenfold since its chief executive officer announced Feb. 3 that the full launch was "just days away.'' Phone calls have increased, too.

"I frankly was very surprised at the volume of hits that we've had in the last week," CEO Rose Naff said Friday. "It definitely sent a signal to me that we should expect a lot more volume than we originally anticipated."

Naff ordered more testing of the site and its backup systems to make sure it will be able to handle the volume. She said it will be a couple more weeks before it debuts.

Much of the recent interest has been from adults ages 18 to 34, according to Naff's Web traffic analysis. These are the so-called "young invincibles" whose interest in obtaining health coverage is considered essential to the long-term success of the federal health care law.

The federal government is operating an insurance exchange in Florida that offers comprehensive health coverage. However, dental coverage for adults is not among the "essential health benefits" that plans must include.

That is a gap that Florida Health Choices hopes to fill by offering discount and limited benefit plans. Though Health Choices won't offer comprehensive insurance, customers can also shop for prescription drug discount cards or services like Lasik eye surgery.

But it's not clear how helpful the dental plans will be, said the president of the Florida Dental Association.

Dr. Terry Buckenheimer, a general dentist in Tampa, said companies who sell these plans must make sure they have signed on enough dentists to meet the new demand. Dentists often complain that insurance reimbursements fall far short of their actual costs, he said.

"The demand on dentistry is growing, but it's unfortunately not a very well-funded mechanism," Buckenheimer said.

Naff said Florida Health Choices also hopes to attract people who have insurance but want extra coverage, as well as some of the 800,000 Floridians who are in the so-called "coverage gap.'' These people have no health insurance because they make too much to qualify under the state's stingy Medicaid requirements but too little to purchase subsidized insurance on the federal marketplace.

Another reason for the delay: Florida Health Choices wants to avoid the embarrassment the federal government faced at the launch of its insurance marketplace and that the state continues to endure with its troubled unemployment assistance website.

"The first time someone comes to visit needs to go well," Naff said. "That's the kind of user experience that will bring people back."

Contact Tia Mitchell at (850) 224-7263 or tmitchell@tampabay.com.

Due to demand, Florida Health Choices postpones debut yet again 02/14/14 [Last modified: Friday, February 14, 2014 11:07pm]

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