The troubled Florida Health Choices program has again delayed launching an insurance exchange separate from the Affordable Care Act marketplace.
CEO Rose Naff said the interest in purchasing discounted health and dental plans is 10 times higher than they anticipated and she wants to make sure the user experience for the initial launch is perfect. Technology experts are not only retooling the websites front pages, but are now revisiting all the infrastructure.
"The time to find out our load maximum is now, before we cross any volume thresholds and possibly risk a less than perfect user experience," Naff said Friday.
The federal government notoriously skipped crucial early testing on its website causing a disastrous launch for healthcare.gov, which led to dismal early enrollment. Florida Health Choices was planning a soft launch in the last several days, but media reports spiked Web visits and calls to their office, worrying Naff that the website might not be able to handle heavy traffic.
After more robust testing, she hopes to launch in the next two weeks or so. Four companies will offer 15 to 20 discount plans. Much of the initial interest has been from consumers seeking dental coverage, Naff told reporters during a conference call.
Critics have repeatedly complained that Florida Health Choices, the brainchild of former House Speaker Marco Rubio, was started in 2008 and still isn't operational more than five years later.
Last year, state lawmakers agreed to pump another $900,000 into the program, despite protests from Democrats who said it was ridiculous to give more money to the struggling Florida Health Choices program. The program has received $1.5 million in the past five years but doesn't have any enrollees.
A year ago, Naff said the website should be up and running at the end of that month.
Florida lawmakers considered partnering with Florida Health Choices to run an insurance exchange under the federal health overhaul, but ultimately decided to let the feds handle the entire program.
Critics have also questioned how the program will stay competitive with the federal exchange and whether the state needs two similar programs. Florida Health Choices will not offer tax credits, unlike the federal exchange.
Florida has led the way among the 36 states using the federal exchange, with nearly 300,000 enrollees. But demand for affordable insurance in the Sunshine State is still high, with roughly 3.5 million lacking coverage.
Naff said there is a gap in coverage where essential health care benefits don't cover adult dental services. Consumers with insurance may also want additional coverage and she also hopes to serve the niche of consumers who fall into a gap where they don't qualify for Medicaid or tax credits in the exchange. The initial launch is only for individual consumers as Florida Health Choices has delayed launching the small business component while the Obama administration was issuing new regulations.
Despite confusion surrounding healthcare.gov website, consumers are not mistakenly visiting Florida Health Choices and anticipating tax credits. But if they do, the website guides them to healthcare.gov or to Medicaid options.
Follow Kelli Kennedy on Twitter at www.twitter.com/kkennedyAP
(Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)