Crist touts health insurance plan for working poor

Feb 20, 2008

By Mark Hollis
South Florida Sun-Sentinel--Feb. 20, 2008

Pushing beyond his political battles over property taxes, Gov. Charlie Crist now is touting a legislative agenda that focuses on establishing low-cost health insurance for the working poor, promotes higher teacher salaries and seeks tax breaks for businesses involved in solar and wind energy technologies.

Before speaking briefly at a political forum here Tuesday night, Crist said he will prod the Legislature this spring to enact a health proposal that lifts certain regulations on health insurance coverage. His strategy, he said, calls for abolishing certain health coverage mandates in employer-sponsored insurance plans. The idea is to create financial incentives for insurance carriers to cover more of the uninsured.

"We have about 3.8 million Floridians without insurance, and we want to do everything we can to fill that gap," Crist said of his No. 1 legislative priority for 2008.

The governor’s remarks came at a crucial juncture in his political career — just as he’s being mentioned in national political circles as a potential running mate to U.S. Sen. John McCain in the race for the White House.

"He’s a pretty brilliant guy and will do what’s right," Crist said of McCain and his task of identifying a running mate. "I’m primarily concerned with Florida first … but if there’s anything I can do to help Sen. McCain become the next president, I will do it. But we have a [legislative] session in about two weeks and I’m pretty focused on that."

Crist’s legislative agenda is more modest than his first year’s goals, which included a push for property tax relief and homeowners insurance savings. His second-year plans were unveiled just before being honored at a 25th anniversary celebration of the nonpartisan Voters Coalition of Palm Beach County.

The group issues election endorsements of local candidates. About 400 people attended, including several local legislators who flew a chartered aircraft from Tallahassee for the dinner-speech celebrating Crist’s first-year achievements.

With his health plan proposal, Crist will be seeking to do what insurance companies have sought for years. They’ve wanted state approval to offer plans that have few mandates, such as the requirement that all plans pay for women to get breast examinations. But the insurance companies’ efforts have been thwarted by heavy lobbying from health-care providers and their supporters who prefer laws requiring coverage of certain services.

Crist said his legislative priorities also will include expanding access to dentists for the poor and uninsured by boosting pay in health department dental clinics and loosening licensure restrictions for retired dentists.