Florida: More hilarity from Marco Rubio's failed anti-Obamacare "exchange"

Remember "Florida Health Choices", the brainchild of Republican Senator Marco Rubio which was supposed to be the Florida GOP's response to the Affordable Care Act health insurance exchanges?

The Florida Republican Party flushed $900,000 in startup funds into a website/"exchange" which signed up a whopping 30 paying customers in 6 months, at a cost of $30,000 apiece...or between 46x - 81x as much per enrollee as the "wasteful" HealthCare.Gov.

Of course, it didn't help that "Florida Health Choices" didn't actually sell, you know, "health insurance" but was basically hawking discount coupons for dental checkups and the like.

It probably also didn't help that those "discount cards" are kind of on the quasi-scammy side, since they're basically offering no better deals on prescription drugs than the customer would likely receive anyway.

Anyway, as of December, "Florida Health Choices" had improved their revenue slightly: After another 4 months they were up to an amazing 49 paying customers (although their budget was apparently overstated by $100K earlier).

By this point, realizing that averaging 4.9 people per month wasn't a very good business model, the "exchange" changed tactics and decided that they wanted to...wait for it...sell ACA-compliant healthcare policies after all!

Aside from the blatant hypocrisy, irony and Republican FAIL of the project (the whole point of it was to "prove" that the GOP's healthcare program would outperform Obamacare), there was one little problem with this move: Since it isn't an actual ACA health insurance exchange (or even an authorized brokerage partner like eHealth Insurance or GoHealth), policies sold thorugh FL Health Choices don't qualify for tax credits, which basically means that there's not much reason for anyone to use their services, as opposed to just calling up Blue Cross, Aetna or whomever and enrolling directly through the company itself.

That brings me to today's update in what I'm calling Rubio's Healthcare Follies:

Stop using our phrase, Florida’s little known insurance exchange says

Florida’s own insurance exchange is not as big or as popular as the federal government’s version athealthcare.gov, which remains the only platform where Sunshine State consumers can receive financial aid to pay for a health plan.

Nearly 1.3 million Floridians so far have signed up using the federal exchange, while fewer than 100 customers have enrolled through the state’s lesser-known marketplace, Florida Health Choices.

Hey, bravo! They've managed to double their customer base in the last month!

But both exchanges have something in common: an identical phrase to promote their products, “The Health Insurance Marketplace.’’

Now, Health Choices wants groups using that specific combination of words to promote the federal exchange to scrub the phrase from their websites, pamphlets and other promotional media — or risk legal action.

Ooooooh...a sternly worded letter. I wonder how that went over?

Having been ignored by the groups when she first dispatched a similar letter on Dec. 23, Naff advised them in Thursday’s follow-up missive to consult with an attorney, noting that trademark infringement is punishable by “substantial financial penalties.’’

Hmmm...but is she going to be forced to taunt them a second time?

“We would hope not to have to do that,’’ Naff said Thursday by telephone after Health Choices mailed the letters and issued a press release asserting the need to protect its brand and avoid confusion for consumers.

Well, I give Naff credit for standing up to the Federal Government, anyway...

Naff said in an interview that she did not send a similar letter to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which runs federal exchange, because “State law does not extend to Washington, D.C.’’

Oh. Never mind...

She emphasized that the groups receiving letters are “doing important work,’’ but explained that since Jan. 5 — when Health Choices began selling plans that comply with coverage requirements under the Affordable Care Act — the state exchange has spent about $75,000 on radio ads, freeway billboard and other promotional efforts.

Huh. $75,000. That's $750 per customer on advertising alone, or still nearly twice as much per enrollee as HC.gov cost for everything.

“We have to spend more,’’ she said, “to get what we would have gotten if we didn’t have this unfair use of our slogan by others.’’

Yes, because I'm sure that the fact that a typical enrollee would have to spend 4.3x as much for a policy purchased through your service as they would through Healthcare.Gov has nothing to do with it.

Karen Egozi, president of the Epilepsy Foundation of Florida, a nonprofit that received an $871,000 grant from the Department of Health and Human Services to counsel consumers shopping for plans on the federal exchange, is one of the few group presidents who replied to Naff’s initial letter in December.

Compliance was simple, said Egozi, who did not receive a letter Thursday. “All I did,’’ she said, “was take out the ‘the’ [from the phrase ‘The Health Insurance Marketplace’].’’

Wait...let's check with Michael Cannon and Jonathan Adler to see if including the word "the" merits a Supreme Court challenge!!

Still, some Florida healthcare industry experts said, Health Choices is making much ado about nothing.

“This is a waste of energy and resources,’’ said Linda Quick, president of the industry trade group, South Florida Hospital and Healthcare Association, which represents dozens of members.

"Waste of energy and resources" is a pretty good description of Marco Rubio and the Florida Republican Party in general, I'd say.

Quick criticized the state exchange for selling “something less than real insurance,’’ she said, referring to the fact that until Jan. 5 Health Choices sold only limited benefit and discount plans for dental, vision, prescription and other services.

So, to summarize, the website sells two products: Useless scams...and Obamacare-compliant policies, but at full price, which people can purchase via any number of other outlets. Gee, I can't fathom why their customer total hasn't broken out of triple digits...