Crist policy director promises big effort on Cover FL

Jan 9, 2009

Florida Health News--January 8, 2009

By Christine Jordan Sexton

TALLAHASSEE — Early miscues that bedeviled the Cover Florida kickoff this week were only to be expected in a new program of this magnitude, the governor’s health care point man said in an interview Wednesday. David Foy, policy director for Gov. Charlie Crist, promised a big push in coming weeks to let uninsured Floridians know about the plans and help them get signed up.

“When you are working to find 4 million uninsured (people) opportunities to buy health insurance, there are going to be glitches,” Foy told Florida Health News. “We have a good team … and we are all engaged in getting the answers and getting people help.”

The “team” includes the Agency for Health Care Administration and the Office of Insurance Regulation. AHCA and OIR received no funding to launch the program and are doing so, in fact, with a budget that’s been cut back.

When Cover Florida officially began on Monday, there was little to no information on the state’s Web site,, telling people how to apply for a plan. Then it was reported that plans sponsored by United Healthcare — one of only two companies chosen to sell Cover Florida products statewide — still hadn’t received an okay on the rates. OIR approved them late Wednesday.

In the four weeks since the contracts were signed, OIR officials had to sort through rate filings and forms from the six companies authorized to sell products through Cover Florida. The agency had to go through just about everything the companies will use to describe the plans, from applications to member handbooks; review Web sites; and ensure that toll free numbers were indeed ready for callers.

All that takes time, Foy said, and the state simply ran short of it.

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. It allows the sale of health policies that have fewer benefits to keep premium costs down, and participation by individuals and businesses is entirely voluntary. What sets Cover Florida apart from efforts of the past is a requirement that companies must do business with anyone who wants to buy a plan, regardless of pre-existing conditions or chronic disease.

Foy says the next phase is to market Cover Florida, an effort which will take off in the coming weeks. A decision was made early against advertising the plan in the fall because the contracts had not yet been signed and the information consumers want and need-like provider networks, benefit grids, and member handbooks-weren’t available.

Now, he said, the state is ready to aggressively advertise the plan. But without money to pay for ads, it’s working with the companies themselves and a network of groups that have shown an interest in the plan. They include small businesses, statewide associations, and health-care providers. Moreover, the Department of Health is asking county health departments and clinics that treat the poor to get out the word.

“(Patients) walking into those clinics and county health departments have no insurance and haven’t had insurance for some time,” he said.

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Florida has agreed to underwrite the cost of running 345 public-service announcements promoting Cover Florida in four major radio markets across the state as a “goodwill” gesture, said spokeswoman Lauralee Shapiro. AHCA is reviewing the copy for the radio ads this week, she said.

The Blues, Florida’s largest insurer, is already enrolling customers in Cover Florida products through a toll-free line listed on the state Web site. The company’s own Cover Florida Web site, which will enable Floridians to apply for a plan online, should be up in April, she said.

United, the other company authorized to sell Cover Florida products statewide, is not planning a public advertising campaign. Spokesman Roger Rollman said United’s business model is to promote its products directly to insurance brokers.