Florida unveils new low-cost health insurance

TALLAHASSEE -- The 3.8 million uninsured Floridians will have the option to buy affordable health insurance plans starting Jan. 5 under Gov. Charlie Crist's Cover Florida health initiative.

Crist said Wednesday that six companies have agreed to offer 25 different health coverage packages around the state. The type and cost of the plans vary, depending on the county and whether a person picks a ''preventive'' or ''catastrophic'' plan.

Average monthly cost: $155. The most expensive, catastrophic plan that offers the most hospital care would cost about $290 monthly. The leanest package would cost about $51 monthly.

''Today, Floridians are one step closer to having the quality affordable healthcare they deserve,'' Crist said. "This is about helping people, helping children, helping seniors and making a difference in their lives. It's about freedom and choices.''

Crist didn't mention a high-cost aspect of one of the plans offered in every county: Deductibles. Under Blue Cross/Blue Shield's catastrophic plan, families would have to pay a $3,000 deductible.

Tough-to-spot costs like this worry advocates for children and seniors. Karen Woodall, who lobbies for social-service agencies, said the Cover Florida plans stop short of universal health coverage and subtly encourage people to act like shoppers rather than patients.

''I appreciate people getting options,'' Woodall said. "But healthcare isn't like shopping for a car, looking for the best deal.''

Woodall said that times are so tough right now that even people in KidCare, the state's subsidized health program for the working poor, are falling behind on payments as low as $20 monthly.

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