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Bill Adair
By Bill Adair March 3, 2010
By John Frank March 3, 2010

Crist says Cover Florida offers basic health coverage for about $150 per month

In his State of the State address, Gov. Charlie Crist cited a litany of accomplishments. Among them: Cover Florida, a state-backed health insurance plan designed to make coverage available to uninsured residents.

"This program is available to almost any Floridian, offering basic coverage for about $150 a month, instead of the typical $600 a month," he said. "As with any private sector plan, the more extensive coverage you want, the higher the premiums, but with so many lacking basic preventive care, Cover Florida remains a sound option for thousands of Floridians."

When we checked a similar claim from Crist in October, Crist said it usually costs $900 to get health insurance. That earned a False ruling because he was comparing apples and oranges. His claim is different this time, and so is the produce-aisle metaphor we're using to describe his technique: He's cherry-picking.

First, some background. Launched in 2008, Cover Florida allows people without coverage for at least six months to pick from plans offered by six insurance companies. The state selected each provider through a competitive bidding process. The provider offers at least two options — one with catastrophic and hospital coverage, and another plan that can provide less coverage.

The program's Web site says that the statewide individual plans can be purchased for as little as $23 a month, to as much as $500 a month, depending on age, gender and level of coverage. Patients pick and choose between various options offered through the 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.

Critics contend Cover Florida Health Care hasn't done enough to cover the uninsured. As of Dec. 31, 2009, about 5,400 people have enrolled — about 0.1 percent of the state's uninsured population, which Crist put at 3.8 million in his speech. But in his speech, Crist avoided those numbers and focused instead on the price. Let's examine both numbers he used.

First, Crist avoided the apples and oranges mistake he made last time, in which he compared a number for family coverage with a number for individuals. But he stretched the truth in other ways.

He said basic coverage is available for about $150 a month. But we find that he's chosen a low number from the wide menu of options to give himself a favorable comparison.

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When people think about health insurance they probably think of coverage that includes hospitalization. And the two statewide Cover Florida plans that offer that coverage are Blue Cross Blue Shield -- average cost $148 for a single -- and United Healthcare, which averages $327. It's also worth noting that is for very basic coverage that includes higher deductibles than you might typically get for a traditional health plan from your employer.

The other part of Crist's claim is that the typical price for coverage for an individual is $600 a month. But we checked that against numbers from the Kaiser Family Foundation, which Crist's office had cited when we checked his earlier claim, and found he's way off. A 2009 Kaiser study says the average monthly cost for a single plan from an employer is $402. (On average, Kaiser found that employers pay 83 percent of an individual's cost, leaving workers to pay about $68).

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.

So Crist's overall point has some truth to it -- you can get basic coverage for $150. But he's doing some artful cherry-picking. He chose the lowest average rate for Cover Florida ($150, when the other plan costs $327) and a very high number for the private market ($600, when studies show it would cost more in the range of $160-$400.) That's such a significant difference that we find his claim Barely True.

Editor's note: This statement was rated Barely True when it was published. On July 27, 2011, we changed the name for the rating to Mostly False.

Our Sources

Fox News, Congressional Quarterly transcripts, Oct. 21, 2009

Cover Florida Health Care, Frequently Asked Questions , accessed Oct. 23, 2009

Cover Florida Health Care, January 2010 Enrollment Summary, accessed March 3, 2010

St. Petersburg Times, Why is Charlie Crist Bragging About Cover Florida? , by Marc Caputo, Aug. 9, 2009

St. Petersburg Times, Crist's health care initiative starts slow, but becomes a major campaign talking point , Marc Caputo, Aug. 11, 2009

Kaiser Family Foundation, Employer Health Benefits: 2009 Annual Survey , accessed Oct. 23, 2009

Kaiser Family Foundation, Survey Shows Private Health Insurance Premiums Rose 11.2% in 2004 , accessed Oct. 23, 2009

Kaiser Family Foundation, Employer Health Benefits: 2006 Summary of Findings , accessed Oct. 23, 2009

eHealth, Health Insurance Premiums: eHealth, Inc. Provides Update on Average Costs for Individual and Family Policies, Aug. 26, 2009

Interview, Florida Sen. Nan Rich, Oct. 23, 2009

Interview, Karen Woodall, social service lobbyist, Oct. 23, 2009

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Crist says Cover Florida offers basic health coverage for about $150 per month

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