ORLANDO — The most expensive health insurance premiums for individuals in Florida in the new government-run online marketplace are in the Florida Keys, and the cheapest premiums are for a bare-bones plan offered in Broward County, according to federal data.
The state's cheapest monthly premiums were for plans covering only catastrophic emergencies in Broward County, according to figures released late Tuesday. Those plans offered by insurer Coventry One in Broward County would cost a 27-year-old almost $86 a month and a 50-year-old would pay $146 monthly. The state's most expensive premiums, for a plans offered by Florida Blue, have the highest level of benefits, known as a platinum plan. It would cost a 27-year-old individual almost $460 a month and a 50-year-old Floridian $782 a month.
Roughly half of Florida's 3.5 million uninsured residents may be eligible for federal subsidies to help them purchase insurance, according to the liberal advocacy group Families USA. But the amount will vary widely depending on income, location, the plan, family size, age, and even tobacco use. Florida residents can choose from 102 plans, the second-highest of any state.
The government-run marketplace is offering five different types of plans based on levels of benefits: platinum, gold, silver, bronze and catastrophic. Insurance plans offered through the exchange have undergone a major upgrade. As of Jan. 1, insurers can no longer turn away people with pre-existing medical conditions, and they will be limited in what they can charge to older policy holders. Consumers' financial exposure will be capped. Insurers are also required to offer beefed up benefits under the plans, so while prices may increase, consumers will be getting a meatier product.
Consumers were able to start shopping on the exchange Tuesday, although many in Florida and around the country were plagued by glitches on the website.
The problems continued Wednesday morning with users getting the same apology message for delays. Amid the problems, federal health officials refused to say how many people enrolled online. The number appeared to be low in Florida.
Several community health centers around the state, including ones in Miami and central Florida, were able to sign a small number of consumers up for health plans online.
"It was quick...we may have had a good 20 minutes or so before the system started to get funky," said Andy Behrman, president and CEO of Florida Association of Community Health Centers.
Workers planned for a possible web crash before launch day and printed hard copies of the online applications which they also translated into Creole for their Haitian clients.
"We don't care about the politics. This is about people so we were trying to make it easy for the patients," said Behrman.
It was a different story at a community health center half an hour away in the Fort Lauderdale area.
"We were not able to enroll but we were able to set appointment s for the rest of this week and help the people gather the required documentation to help their appointments a smoother process," said Jerson Dulis, a certified application counselor with Broward Community & Family Health Centers, Inc.
It's too soon to tell whether enough people will sign up for insurance through the new federal marketplace to make the law successful. If enough people participate, it will mean more customers for insurers and more paying patients for hospitals, giving them more incentive to experiment with different ways of paying doctors and delivering care in an industry with already shrinking profit margins. Experts anticipate many insurers will narrow the number of doctors in a certain network to curb costs because it's an easy way to control where patients go.
Overall, the most expensive premiums in Florida were for platinum and gold plans found in the Florida Keys, Miami, Fort Lauderdale and Lakeland. The least expensive premiums were for bronze and catastrophic plans scattered throughout metro Tampa, Jacksonville, metro Pensacola and South Florida.
The cost of premiums for a family paralleled the rates for individuals when it came to geography. The most expensive premium for a family in Florida was a Florida Blue plan in the Florida Keys. The platinum plan would set a family back $1,551 every month. The cheapest plan for a family was the catastrophic plan offered by Coventry One in Broward County. It would set a family back almost $290 each month.
Premiums for the same type of plans varied widely, and in some cases were twice as expensive, depending on the insurer and location. For instance, a platinum plan for a family offered by Humana in Palm Beach County cost only $733 — almost half as much as the premium for the Florida Blue family plan in Monroe County.
But insurers are cautioning consumers to consider more than just the bottom line. If you want to stay with a particular doctor's network or have around-the-clock customer service, it may cost more. Alternatively, even though a premium may be low, there could be a $5,000 deductible before the plan kicks in.
"Everyone is so focused on price that they're giving the consumer a false sense that it's only the price that's important to them," said Ray Smithberger, general manager in charge of Cigna Individual and Family Plans. Cigna is offering several plans through Florida's federally-run health exchange.
Kennedy reported from Fort Lauderdale, Fla.