Florida Passes Model Legislation Allowing More Health Insurance Choice

Published August 1, 2008

Florida Gov. Charlie Crist (R) has signed a bill allowing uninsured Floridians to purchase health insurance plans largely free of expensive, superfluous mandated coverages.

Experts are lauding the new legislation, the Cover Florida Health Access Act, as a positive step toward affordable health insurance and a model program for other states.

Mandates Cause Uninsurance

Every state has laws requiring certain procedures and illnesses be covered by every insurance policy sold within its borders. Florida currently has the 13th most among the states, with 48 coverage mandates, including hair prosthesis, orthotics, and second surgical opinion. It also has one of the highest uninsured rates (21 percent, or roughly 3.8 million people) in the country–a fact experts say is no coincidence.

“Government regulation drives up the cost of health insurance and is a significant factor in denying health insurance to the working poor,” said Michael Tanner, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute. “If government were to mandate that the only car anyone could own was a Lexus, it wouldn’t be long before the poor lacked transportation. Sometimes people have to drive a Kia. Kudos to the Florida legislature for belatedly recognizing an economic fact of life.”

“This important step forward by Florida reflects what many [people] nationwide know all too well: Consumers can’t afford the ‘benefits’ lawmakers force on them,” said Joel White, a senior fellow at the Galen Institute. “In many cases the good intentions of lawmakers to ‘protect’ consumers by mandating benefits they cannot afford or do not want has ‘protected’ them into the ranks of the uninsured.

“The U.S. Congress should take heed of Florida’s action and pass legislation that expands consumer choices,” White added.

‘Giant Step Forward’

Cover Florida, signed by Crist in early June, will allow individuals who qualify to purchase “bare bones” insurance policies that cover only the treatments consumers want to pay for instead of all the treatments and procedures Tallahassee has declared mandatory in the past. It is expected to save eligible Floridians hundreds of dollars in premiums while reducing the number of uninsured in the state.

“Florida’s new insurance law is a giant step forward toward affordable health insurance that should serve as a model for other states,” said Stephen J. Entin, president of the Institute for Research on the Economics of Taxation.

Entin explained, “It will allow consumers who have been without insurance for at least six months to buy policies that meet their personal requirements, free of expensive mandates formerly required by the legislature at the behest of special interests.”

Consumers in Driver’s Seat

“Other states should follow Florida’s lead and allow insurers to sell innovative policies consumers actually want,” said Devon Herrick, a senior fellow at the National Center for Policy Analysis.

Cover Florida “puts the consumer in the driver’s seat, instead of the providers,” said Entin. “The resulting competition for the consumer’s dollar will make insurance attractive to many who must now go without.”

Jeff Emanuel ([email protected]) is research fellow for health care policy at The Heartland Institute and managing editor of Health Care News.

For more information …

Senate Bill 2534 (Cover Florida Health Access Act): http://flhouse.gov/Sections/Documents/loaddoc.aspx?FileName=700952.DOC&DocumentType=Amendments&BillNumber=2534&Session=2008