TALLAHASSEE - Former House Speaker Marco Rubio, a candidate for U.S. Senate who is critical of President Obama’s ideas on health reform, says the nation should instead adapt a plan he helped to enact: Florida Health Choices.
A "health-insurance marketplace exists here in Florida," he told a radio station last week, claiming it's "happening right now."
But Rubio is touting a plan, not a reality. Nearly two years after its passage, Florida Health Choices has yet to insure anyone.
Rubio's rival for the Republican primary for U.S. Senate from Florida, Gov. Charlie Crist, also touts his plan as a national model. But Cover Florida, as of Nov. 30, had enrolled 5,200 people as of Nov. 30.
According to some consumer groups, the number of uninsured Floridians -- estimated at around 3.8 million -- has actually grown since Cover Florida went into effect a year ago.
Anyone who is uninsured can enroll in Cover Florida without being turned away, but some uninsured Floridians have said the benefits are too skimpy, while others found the premiums unaffordable. There are no state subsidies; Crist boasts that the program uses no public money.
The Health Choices program received a $1.5-million appropriation from the state when it was created in 2008.
Both programs were part of the same bill, aimed at providing more people access to insurance without being a burden to taxpayers.
State Sen. Dan Gelber, a Miami Beach Democrat, said neither Crist nor Rubio can claim success with their health care reform proposals: “All we are seeing from these statewide candidates is bashing any federal reforms and pretending like their programs have done something.”
Bringing the Health Choices Program to fruition has been the job of a 15 member board of directors, chaired by former state Rep. Aaron Bean, a Republican from Fernandina Beach. The board has held a spate of meetings around the state and contracted with an executive director, an administrative assistant and an attorney.
Bean has attributed delays in Health Choices getting off the ground to Sunshine Law requirements that prevent board members from having private conversations. In addition, Bean said Crist was slow in making appointments to the board of directors.
Bean said it takes time to build the infrastructure required to develop a web-based marketplace. It's designed to give participating employers a place to send their workers to get access to a widevariety of health plans, including stripped-down partial plans such as dental-only.
The Health Choices Board meets in Jacksonville at Shands Hospital on Friday. Members are to discuss the marketing plan and the services that should be included in the web based platform.Christine Jordan Sexton is co-founder of TallahasseeReporters.com.