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Uninsured Floridians offered affordable health insurance

TALLAHASSEE — The 3.8-million uninsured Floridians will have the option to buy affordable health insurance plans starting Jan. 5 under Gov. Charlie Crist's Cover Florida health initiative.

Crist said Wednesday that six companies have agreed to offer 25 different health coverage packages around the state. The type and cost of the plans vary, depending on the county and whether a person picks a "preventive" or "catastrophic" plan.

Average monthly costs range from $50.75 to $170.55. The most expensive, catastrophic plan that offers the most hospital care would cost about $310 monthly in the Tampa Bay area. The leanest package would cost about $23 monthly.

"Today Floridians are one step closer to having the quality affordable health care they deserve," Crist said. "This is about helping people, helping children, helping seniors and making a difference in their lives. It's about freedom and choices."

But advocates for children and seniors are skeptical about the plans. Karen Woodall, who lobbies for social service agencies, said the Cover Florida plans stop short of universal health coverage and subtly encourage people to act like shoppers rather than patients.

"I appreciate people getting options," Woodall said. "But health care isn't like shopping for a car, looking for the best deal."

Woodall said that times are so tough right now that even people in KidCare, the state's subsidized health program for the working poor, are falling behind on payments as low as $20 monthly.

The Cover Florida plans are available to Floridians ages 19-64 who have lost their jobs or have been without coverage for more than six months.

Two companies, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Florida and United HealthCare of Florida, will provide the plans to the Tampa Bay area.

The biggest change is that uninsured people who are eligible for the plans cannot be denied coverage because of pre-existing conditions, said Chip Kenyon, director of expansion markets for Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Florida.

Kenyon said Blue Cross has offered low-cost insurance called Go Blue since late 2007, but the state-negotiated plans guarantee coverage despite pre-existing conditions that might have disqualified people from traditional coverage.

"This is a big change," Kenyon said. "It represents the best of what the public sector and the private sector can do to find creative and innovative solutions to the uninsured."

The plans cover many of the same items as full-fledged insurance packages, but they offer fewer benefits. For instance, conventional insurance packages might offer more prescription drug coverage and more hospital stays than a Cover Florida plan.

In return for less coverage, insurers negotiated with the state to offer the less expensive plans.

Marc Caputo can be reached at mcaputo@miamiherald.com.

BY THE NUMBERS

6 Companies offering insurance packages.

25 Coverage plans available.

$155 Average cost per month.

$290 Cost of most expensive plan (termed "catastrophic").

$51 Cost of least expensive plan.

Uninsured Floridians offered affordable health insurance 12/10/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, December 17, 2008 2:50pm]
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