The back and forth between the House of Representatives and Gov. Charlie Crist was resolved Thursday and by Friday the Legislature passed (CS/CS/CS/SB 2534).  The bill expands access to mandate free health insurance plans through one of three avenues: Cover Florida, a competitively bid guarantee issue plan available to uninsured residents who sign up; Healthy Choices, a mandate free marketplace for employers willing to join; and Health Flex, a program already in existence but unpopular.
 
Crist identified health care access as priorities for the session. Florida has 3.8 million uninsured residents, one of the highest numbers of uninsured as well as one of the highest percentages of uninsured citizens.  Flanked by Sen. Durell Peaden and House Heatlhcare Council Chairman, Rep Aaron Bean, R-Fernandina Beach, Crist said, "This is historic legislation never before in Florida has there been this kind of effort.  I am more grateful than I could ever possibly be as a result of what has happened here in Tallahassee Florida today."
 
Cover Florida is Crist’s solution to the uninsured. Under the plan Floridians would be able to purchase health insurance for as little as $150 a month, the governor’s office says. The costs would be low because the state would solicit bids from health insurance companies that would be authorized to sell stripped-down health insurance.
 
Cover Florida plans would not include the 50 or so of the mandates required under current law but would still have to cover many of the basics. Much of the controversy surrounding the health care bill this year focused on a provision sought by Rep. Bean. While Bean likes to call his proposal the “marketplace” or the “farmers market” it’s officially called Florida Health Choices.

While Crist’s Cover Florida Plan targets individuals, Bean’s plan targets employers. Once an employer agrees to pay a fee and join Bean’s virtual “marketplace” they open up access to a variety of plans for their employees.

Crist criticized the Bean plan for not having enough government oversight and the governor’s office questioned why insurance companies and providers dominated the Florida Health Choices board. The House responded to some of the criticisms. Insurance companies, HMOs, PSNs and other health care providers-and others with vested interests in the success of the marketplace-are banned from serving on the Florida Health Choices 15 member board.  The bill gives the governor, speaker of the House and Senate president four board appointees. The secretaries of the Agency for Health Care Administration and the Department of Management Services as well as the commissioner of the Office of Insurance Regulation are the remaining board members.
 
Other provisions tucked inside the bill include a mandated offering for 30 year-old adult children to stay on their parent’s policies, so long as the child is not married and has no dependents or so long as they were a student. Employers would not be required to contribute to the premium of the dependent.

Heatlh Flex-the current mandate free health care experiment that’s been in effect-also is expanded by another five years in this bill. In addition to keeping the program intact for another five years the bill expands the income eligibility for the program from the current 200 percent of the federal poverty level to 300 percent of the federal poverty level. That means people earning $63,600 annually can purchase the plans.

The bill also expands the population eligible for health flex plans by allowing individuals that are covered under an individual contract issued by an HMO with an approved Health Flex plan to enroll in the HMO’s Health Flex plan.
 
The bill also expands coverage for the Florida KidCare program by removing a cap that prevented families with higher incomes from participating in the program. The Florida Healthy Kids Corporation will be required to provide a study to the Legislature and governor on the cost impact to the subsidized portion of the program.

Lastly, the bill exempts the Florida Insurance Code religious organizations that qualify under Title 26, s. 501 of the IRS Code. In order to meet this exemption the nonprofit religious organization must:
* Limit its membership to members of the same religion;
* Act as an organizational clearinghouse for information between participants who have financial, physical, or medical needs and those with the ability to pay for the benefit of those members in need;
* Provide for medical or financial needs of participants through payments directly from one participant to another;
* Suggest amounts that participants may voluntarily give with no assumption of risk or promise to pay either among the participants or between the participants.