Florida offers few options for uninsured young adults

Tara Haelle by Tara Haelle

Florida doesn’t offer much of a healthcare safety net for new college graduates. Employer-provided insurance plans remain a new graduate’s best bet for decent coverage, but with an unemployment rate of 10.7 percent as of July, prospects  of jobs with such perks can be discouraging.

“Florida is at the very bottom of the pile when it comes to health care coverage from employers,” says Daniella Levine, director of Dade County Human Services Coalition.  The percentage of Florida small businesses (less than 50 employees) offering health insurance to employees dropped from 45.6 percent to 38.9 percent between 2000 and 2006, according to a Medical Expenditure Panel Survey from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The good news, however, is that Florida is one of the states allowing unmarried young adults to remain on their parents’ insurance as dependents until they turn 25. Even after hitting the milestone age, they have the option of paying the full individual premium – or the amount it would cost to insure a single employee – to stay with the policy until they’re 30.

But beyond this law, young adults are on their own to wrangle with premiums that are quickly spiking. The average annual premium in 2008 was $4,517, up from $3,592 in 2003.

With the third highest rate of uninsured residents in the country at 27 percent, Florida has turned to the private market to help provide insurance to more people. The Cover Florida program, which took effect in January, allowed six insurance companies to offer lower cost private health plans with fewer benefits than previously mandated by the state for standard insurance plans.

Designed to be more affordable than most private insurance, the plans are available to adults aged 19 to 64 who have gone without health insurance for the previous six months, lost a job that provided health benefits, lost COBRA benefits or lost benefits from a spouse’s death or divorce. The plans, offered as preventive or catastrophic options, are guaranteed even for those with preexisting health conditions. But a one-year waiting period on treating those conditions can be imposed.

“The thinking behind this proposal is that you can sell to college students and younger people who are healthier but you can strip down the benefits,” says Laura Goodhue, executive director at Florida CHAIN (Community Health Action Information Network).

But those stripped-down policies aren’t attracting many people. “They were hoping to target young people that might be attracted to it, but it’s not successful,” she says.

Of the 3,757 people who have taken advantage of Cover Florida since it began, only 544 are between the ages of 19 and 29, and the rates aren’t as attractive as one might hope for the benefits offered. One plan offered by United, with a $500 deductible and a maximum benefit of $500,000, costs $331 a month for basic catastrophic coverage for women, or $201 for men. Another can cost as little as $67 per month for females and $58 per month for males, but this plan has a $3,000 deductible and only $50,000 in lifetime benefits.

Florida insurance broker Santiago Leon says he’s not surprised at the low enrollment numbers of Cover Florida. “Even if you offer somewhat less insurance for somewhat less money, people really don’t like buying something they don’t see as providing full coverage,” says Leon, who handled the insurance policy for employees of Human Services Coalition.

Brokers, clearly, are not working hard to sell the plans because one way the plans save money is paying insurance brokers less. “You get a product that people are not excited about in the first place and that insurance people aren’t excited about selling, it’s just not a good combination,” Leon says.

Exciting or not, Cover Florida is the only alternative to employer-sponsored or standard individual market plans right now.

“In terms of providing health insurance to [young] people, no one’s thinking about it,” Goodhue said. “Anything that’s going to cost money is not going to happen.”

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