Another oops for Cover FL — United not yet approved

Jan 8, 2009

Florida Health News--January 7, 2009

By Carol Gentry and Christine Jordan Sexton

TALLAHASSEE — For weeks, Florida officials have said six companies received state authorization to sell moderately-priced, limited-benefit health plans to the uninsured as of Jan. 5. Two are listed on the state’s Cover Florida Web site as having approval for statewide sales.

It turns out that isn’t so. One of the statewide companies, United Healthcare of Florida, has not yet received approval from the Office of Insurance Regulation. Its application is still pending, OIR and United confirmed Wednesday following a report in the Florida Times-Union.

OIR requested more information from United and expects to approve the application on Thursday after reviewing it, agency spokesman Edward Domansky wrote in an e-mail response to questions from Florida Health News.

This represents the second embarrassment in three days to Gov. Charlie Crist, who put his personal stamp on the Cover Florida program a year ago and whose face graces the welcome page at the state’s Cover Florida site. On Monday, the governor’s office issued a press release saying Floridians could begin using the toll-free numbers for the programs before the numbers were actually posted on the site.

The Agency for Health Care Administration, which operates the Cover Florida Web site, has been focused on the pending budget cuts and the Web site “isn’t completely up to speed yet,” said Tom Arnold, AHCA’s deputy secretary for communication and legislative affairs.

New programs often have glitches, and the bumpy start for Cover Florida is nothing more than that, he said. “I’m confident it’s all going to be worked out and that United will end up with an approved plan,” Arnold said. “The whole idea is to provide people health care access. I’m confident it will be there for them.”

The other plan listed on the state site as ready to roll– Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Florida – has in fact received OIR approval, said Chip Kenyon, director of market development. “We’re right on schedule. We’re fully operational, fielding requests from the public.”

At Blue Cross, customers can get coverage within a few days of applying, he said. At United, the delays mean the earliest that coverage will be available is March 1.

The delay isn’t United’s fault, spokesman Roger Rollman said. “We’re prepared. We’ve done everything we possibly could,” he said. “We’re waiting for the state to act.”

However, some who called the United toll-free number listed on the state site on Tuesday say they were treated as customers by the cheerful United call-center staff in Minnesota. They weren’t told the plan doesn’t exist yet.

When Florida Health News informed Rollman of that on Wednesday morning, he said he’d alert the company’s headquarters to correct the problem.

The Cover Florida concept was developed as a way for the state to address the huge and growing number of uninsured in the state – 3.8 million a year ago, doubtless more by now – at a time when a severe recession in the economy has state officials cutting spending for almost everything, including health coverage.

The state negotiated with private companies to develop policies that offer pruned-back benefits for an affordable price. For instance, the lowest-priced plans offer no hospital coverage.

But the program offers many Floridians something they cannot buy on the commercial market, since Cover Florida plans have to accept all comers, including those who have been turned away by insurers in the past.

“This is a big change in the market,” said Blue Cross’ Kenyon. “People can no longer be refused health care coverage, which should provide peace of mind.”