In a recent Fox News interview, Florida Gov. Charlie Crist boasted about Cover Florida Health Care, an effort to provide low-cost health care coverage to the nearly 4 million uninsured in the state.
"There are no government mandates to it, no tax dollars utilized for it," Crist said on Oct. 21, 2009. "Just good, aggressive negotiating by our administration with health insurance companies. ... And, really, the problem with health care is that it's expensive. And so what we've attempted to do is reduce the cost by reducing the expense and the premium of health insurance, and we've had success doing so. Usually it's about $900 a month to get health coverage. We've reduced that, on average, to about $150 a month."
Given all the debate over the high cost of health care, we wondered if the Florida plan could be as inexpensive as Crist claims. We found he was distorting the savings by mixing apples and oranges.
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.
The program's Web site says that individual plans can be purchased for as little as $23 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.
Since Cover Florida Health Care was enacted, critics have said the program hasn't done enough to cover the uninsured. To date, about 4,500 people have enrolled — about 0.1 percent of the state's uninsured population.
The low-cost options so often touted by state officials don't offer patients much of a safety net, said Florida state Sen. Nan Rich.
"People are beginning to see that it doesn't cover anything," said Rich, a Democrat from Broward County. "It may be inexpensive, but it's inexpensive for a reason. It's a very low level of coverage."
When we asked Crist's office about his claim — that health care costs are on average $900 a month compared to $150 under Florida's plan — we were told that the $900 figure cited by the governor came from the Kaiser Family Foundation and that it refers to the amount of money a family pays, on average, per month. Crist's office also noted that the figure is outdated (for instance, in 2006, the average monthly cost per family was about $950) and pointed us to a new Kaiser report released Sept. 15, 2009, that estimates families now pay about $1,114 a month.
So Crist is off by about $200 for family coverage.
As for the average cost under the Cover Florida program, Crist's office pointed us to a document that lists the different providers and their rates for individuals. The average for the higher-end coverage, which would include hospitalization and catastrophic insurance, is about $227, while the average for the less-expensive "preventive" plan was $89. So Crist's $150 number is the approximate average of the two.
But wait. The first number Crist cited is the Kaiser estimate for a family . The second number is for an individual .
We went back to the Kaiser report and found that the average cost for an individual plan is actually around $400 a month, which would mean the gap was not as dramatic as Crist claimed.
Crist spokesman Sterling Ivey acknowledged the apples and oranges comparison but said the underlying point is still valid that the Florida average is lower.
But we find Crist is using sleight-of-hand, comparing numbers that aren't comparable. He's used a higher family number with a lower number for individuals. We rate his claim False.