As Gov. Charlie Crist unveiled options under the state's "Cover Florida" program earlier this month, he declared, "Affordable access to health care will be a reality for Florida's hard-working families and businesses." But a close examination of the offerings show a sober reality for the 3.8-million Floridians who are uninsured: The only option coming close to traditional-style health insurance will cost a family of four roughly $8,400 annually — or about 18 percent of the state's median household income of $46,000. While Cover Florida is a start, it won't come close to solving the problem.
That's not to say the plans, which start next month, aren't without merit. Cover Florida may prove to be a reasonable solution for some uninsured, particularly for Floridians who have a pre-existing condition and have been unable to obtain coverage elsewhere at any reasonable price. The plans are available to Floridians ages 19 to 64 who have been without health insurance for at least six months or who are recently unemployed. Other Floridians may also be eligible if, during the previous six months, they lost their employer-sponsored health benefits or are no longer covered by a public health insurance program such as Medicaid.
In the Tampa Bay area, two companies are each offering two Cover Florida plans: United Healthcare and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Florida. Each company offers a "preventative" plan that focuses largely on services such as annual exams and screenings, including mammograms for women and prostate exams for men. Costs for adults depend on the insured's age and gender, but average annual premiums are between $609 and $787. The companies' "catastrophic" plans include those services plus some hospitalization coverage for annual premiums averaging between $1,777 and $2,047. But the devil is in the details. Blue Cross' plans pay only $15 per prescription; United's plan covers the full cost of drugs after a $10 co-pay, but only on generics. And while Blue Cross' plans are less expensive, the maximum benefits are also less. Coverage in the catastrophic plan is capped at $25,000 annually or $50,000 over the policy's lifetime. It's not hard to imagine an emergency surgery or brush with cancer that would quickly erode that benefit. United's plans have lifetime limits of $500,000.
President-elect Barack Obama has selected former South Dakota U.S. Sen. Tom Daschle to oversee Obama's promised health care reform. And U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor of Tampa has signed on to the House committee that will lead the charge. Until there's a better solution nationally — with universal coverage for all — Crist's offerings of Cover Florida may provide some relief to some Floridians. But it's no substitute for full reform.