In 2008, when current Florida senator Marc Rubio was serving as the speaker of the state House, he introduced a plan for a state-run healthcare website that would allow residents to purchase affordable insurance. This proposal eventually became Florida Health Choices, state Republicans’ alternative to the federal Affordable Care Act. However, six months after the launch of the program’s website and a year after state legislators allocated $900,000 to further its mission, the results are disappointing: only 37 people have signed up for Florida Health choices online, and seven of those plans were canceled for lack of payment or other reasons.
This news follows numerous reports on Florida’s often criticized response to the ACA, in which the state refused to create an individual component, requiring residents to use the federal website instead. Florida also refused to expand Medicaid coverage, costing the state $51 million in federal funds. This gap has already had a significant affect on low-income groups, including 764,000 Floridians who can’t afford subsidized insurance and do not qualify for Medicaid.
Meanwhile, even those who do qualify for Medicaid are experiencing problems. Under Florida’s current system, Medicaid patients receive treatment from one of 14 insurance companies, which patients can either choose or are automatically selected by the state. As a result, many physicians are claiming that patients are suddenly finding that they have been assigned to a new doctor, putting their health at risk. Others have commented that the program, which successfully assigned over 3 million Medicaid patients private insurance plans by August 1, was ill-timed, beginning just as many children started getting their back-to-school physicals.
However, while these patients at least have some form of medical coverage, gaps in the Florida Health Choices program are causing more serious concerns. While the website is barely being used by state residents, the program itself has experienced a number of problems since its inception: with only two paid employees, the website had to postpone its planned February launch until March, and is in the process of switching from a highly criticized insurance provider to a new plan. However, many critics say the biggest problem is in the aim of the website itself: instead of providing comprehensive coverage for hospitalization and other major services, Florida Health Choices provides limited benefits and discounts for dental care, prescription drugs, and eye care.
With such a dearth of actual medical provisions, it is perhaps unsurprising that urgent care centers are becoming increasingly popular in Florida. These clinics, which provide medical treatment for a wide array of non-critical injuries and illnesses, are often a quicker and more affordable alternative to emergency rooms and traditional doctors appointments; statistics show that almost 60% of patients wait 15 minutes or less to see an urgent care physician. One urgent care provider, American CareSource Holdings, announced that it successfully acquired a number of urgent care centers in Panama City and Panama City Beach, Florida. The corporation also stated that it was interested in obtaining additional clinics, demonstrating an interest in the area.
Despite their disappointing figures and the success of the urgent care industry in the state, however, legislators and representatives of Florida Health Choices have said that they plan to revise their proceedings to better attract customers. This would include seeking out new products and partners, and even selling pet insurance if it would appeal to residents. However, the website’s critics insist that the true problem isn’t the program itself, but it’s focus on minor services rather than expanding Medicaid and offering meaningful coverage.