In their first U.S Senate primary debate, Gov. Charlie Crist and former House Speaker Marco Rubio bragged about accomplishments and sparred over differences.
Crist highlighted his work on Cover Florida Health Care, an effort to provide low-cost coverage to the state's nearly 4 million uninsured, as a way to criticize the health care law recently put on the books in Washington.
"The real problems with health care are access and affordability. And we have approached those in Florida," Crist said. "We negotiated with the private sector. We reduced the cost to those who were uninsured. We were able to provide access. And the average cost for health insurance in Florida went from about $600 a month for an individual to about $150 a month. No tax dollars involved. No government mandates. I think Washington could learn a lot from Florida."
The program, which was started in 2008, allows individuals who have been without coverage for at least six months to pick from plans offered by six insurance companies. Each provider was chosen by the state through a competitive bidding process, and each offers at least two options — one with catastrophic and hospital coverage, and another plan that can provide less coverage. According to Cover Florida Health Care's Web site, individual plans can be purchased for as little as $23 a month or as much as $800 a month, depending on age, gender and level of coverage. Patients pick and choose between various options offered through the six insurers. So, for example, a woman who is between 19 and 29 years of age can pay $130 a month for a plan that includes no deductible, $10 copays for doctor visits, but no hospital inpatient coverage.
Amid the contentious health care debate, Cover Florida has been a go-to talking point for Crist. Already PolitiFact Florida has checked three claims on the plan.
- In October 2009, Crist said "it's about $900 a month to get health coverage. We've reduced that, on average, to about $150 a month." We found his claim False because he was comparing the cost per family to the cost per individual.
- In his March 2010 State of the State address, Crist said Cover Florida offers "basic coverage for about $150 a month, instead of the typical $600 a month" We found this claim Barely True because he was cherry-picking the numbers.
- In a March 2010 radio ad, Crist said "thousands already enrolled and climbing." We ruled this Half True because the program had just over 5,000 participants in December 2009, with a monthly growth under 200.
Crist's current claim is nearly identical to the one we checked from his State of the State address.
Again, he's more or less correct that some Florida residents can get coverage from Cover Florida for about $150 on average. But the $600 figure for average Floridians still isn't holding water, and an explanation from Crist spokeswoman Andrea Saul isn't all that convincing.
First, we wondered if Crist was referring to some sort of Florida-specific average, as his statement in the debate implies. In an e-mail, Saul said he was not. Instead, she sent us an April 2008 press release about Crist's meeting with Floridians struggling to pay health care costs. One participant, Belinda Boncaro, said she paid $670 per month for her health insurance.
"The best information is of course from individuals sharing their stories," Saul wrote.
In fact, it's likely that the cost of an individual plan is quite a bit lower. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, the average monthly cost per individual is actually about $400 a month. And a study by eHealth, which offers coverage to people on the individual market when they cannot get employer coverage, said the average monthly cost is $161. That number is lower than the employer-provided cost because the policies typically have higher deductibles or fewer benefits. Also, insurers in the individual market can deny coverage for pre-existing conditions.
Crist's overall point has some truth to it: You can get basic coverage from Cover Florida for $150. But he's once again done some artful cherry-picking. There are two statewide Cover Florida plans that offer hospitalization -- Blue Cross Blue Shield with an average cost $148 for a single person, and United Healthcare, which averages $327. He chose the lowest figure and a very high number for the private market ($600, when studies show it would cost more in the range of $160-$400). So, in theory, the most expensive plan under the state's program isn't that much less expensive than the national average.
Furthermore, his spokeswoman told us that the $600 figure is not a national or even state average. Rather, it's the rough estimate for the monthly cost of one person's health care. And that means it's not a reliable or significant number. Because Crist used two numbers to set up a false comparison that implies Cover Florida Health Care is much less expensive than other plans when it is not, we rate this False.