Crist signs health insurance bill to give no-frills coverage

May 21, 2008

Miami Herald–May 21, 2008


Some uninsured Florida residents may be able to more easily get health care coverage under legislation signed Wednesday by Gov. Charlie Crist.

The new law lets insurance companies offer scaled-back health plans without all the usually required coverages. That might make insurance available to some people for as little as $150 a month, Crist said.

Under the law, some insurance companies will join a state program in which they are required to cover many basic health care needs, such as drugs, emergency care and hospitalization, but won’t be required to pay for many treatments that insurers generally must cover. Among those might be mandated coverages like certain screenings, or coverage of certain transplants. Insurers said those requirements contribute to rising health care costs.

"It is not the Cadillac of health plans, but if offers something very, very important for the citizens of our state," said Crist, who said shrinking the number of people in Florida without health insurance, now about 3.8 million, is one of his top priorities. "It will take away a lot of worry."

The state program, known as "Cover Florida," will be open to uninsured people aged 19-64. Children and the elderly wouldn’t need it, because they’re generally eligible for other government programs such as Medicaid, Medicare and the state’s KidCare subsidized insurance program for children. To participate, someone has to have been uninsured for six months.

The new law will also allow insurers who don’t participate in the state "Cover Florida" program to also make changes that may let them provide cheaper policies. Under that part of the law, organizations and insurance companies would be allowed to offer scaled-back plans that have even fewer requirements than the ones participating in the state program.

Small businesses with less than 50 workers would be able to take advantage of a variety of insurance policy options – and things that aren’t exactly insurance, like medical savings accounts – under that part of the law.

Some critics worried those plans might not offer enough consumer protections, but supporters said that plans that don’t cover everything are better than no insurance at all.

State law generally has about 50 mandated coverages for most health insurance policies. They range from requirements that policies must cover some types of transplants to requirements for the number of days that women must be allowed to remain in the hospital after child birth.

Crist went on the road to celebrate the signing of the bill, heading first to the Ryder Trauma Center in Miami, which treats many uninsured patients and often gets stuck with the cost. That, in turn, further drives up the cost of health care for everyone, experts said.

Crist said he hopes the availability of cheaper coverage may reduce the number of people needing emergency care, because they will be more likely to treat problems early.

"One in five Floridians goes to bed at night worrying about how to pay for medical care," Crist said. "And they wait to go to the doctor until they have a medical emergency."

Later, Crist went to the University Community Area Health Center, a clinic in north Tampa.

The bill also allows families with children who make too much money to participate in the KidCare program to pay full premiums and get the coverage through the program. It also requires insurance companies to offer families the option to keep unmarried adult children enrolled on their family health policy until age 30.