Florida: Marco Rubio's "anti-Obamacare" website continues to be the gift that keeps on giving

Long-time readers know that I've been a little obsessed with the so-called "healthcare exchange" called Florida Health Choices since last August, having posted 3-4 entries on this huge pile of Republican FAIL since then.

The short version is that before he was elected a U.S. Senator, Marco Rubio, then a member of the Florida House of Representatives, convinced his colleagues in the Florida state legislature to pony up $900,000 of taxpayer money to set up their own "healthcare exchange" to show that Republicans can outdo the Democrats when it comes to selling health insurance online, dagnabbit! Once the ACA was signed into law, "Florida Health Choices" became essentially a protest project against the Evils of All Things Obamacare.

Of course, there were a few minor problems with "Florida Health Choices", Rubio's brainchild:

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.

Oh, one more thing:

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).

...which means that the exchange cost $16,300 for each customer--about the cost of a small sedan--versus, say, the much-maligned Healthcare.Gov, which has cost somewhere between $1.7 billion$2.1 billion or so, or around $160 - $200 for each of the 10.4 million paying enrollees who have enrolled or renewed their policies this year (I should note that those estimates come from the right-wing outlets Weekly Standard and National Review...but even so, since these numbers are from back in September/October, let's call it $250/enrollee by now).

So, what's a miserable failure to do?? Easy: Completely abandon the primary reason you were created in the first place (ie, to demonstrate complete opposition to Obamacare) by adding ACA-compliant healthcare policies to your offerings!

Of course, there's a few problems with that as well.

For one thing, Florida already has a quick, easy-to-use website selling ACA-compliant policies...it's called Healthcare.Gov, and it's signed up a whopping 1.6 million people this year (about 1.4 million of whom will pay up). Assuming the King v. Burwell plaintiffs are shot down by the Supreme Court, there's really not a whole lot of need for another publicly-funded healthcare insurance-selling website in the Sunshine State.

For another, "Florida Health Choices" isn't a licensed ACA exchange partner...which means that the policies they sell don't qualify for federal tax subsidies. That, in turn, means that anyone who does enroll through the site has to pay full price, just like if they did so directly through the insurance company itself...which kind of defeats the whole point of having such a website in the first place.

Rubio's Pride decided that the real problem was that Florida residents were getting "confused" between them and their competitors:

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.’’

Still, perhaps I'm being unfair here. After all, the 1.6 million figure for Healthcare.Gov in Florida includes the entire 2015 Open Enrollment period, while the most-recent update on Florida Health Choices only ran through early February. How about now?

Well, let's see...

Lesser-Known Florida Insurance Exchange Spends $2.4M, Signs Up 42 People

...The other alternative was Florida Health Choices, a voluntary marketplace created in 2008 for Floridians to purchase coverage. It operates independently of the federal exchange at healthcare.gov — which enrolled 1.6 million Floridians — and unlike the federal exchange, does not offer subsidies.

With the open enrollment period over on Feb. 15, the numbers are in. A total of 42 consumers enrolled for health care plans this year and another nine people obtained other insurance coverage on the state marketplace. Their total premiums: $253,170.

Ouch. That's 42 people. Even if you charitably throw in the "9 other people" (who presumably bought one of those dental checkup coupon books or whatever that I mentioned above), that's still just 51 paying customers.

But wait!! The original article from August claimed that the "exchange" cost $900,000 of state tax money, but was later corrected to only $800,000! Perhaps there's been a further revision downward, or the startup costs are out of the way and now the site is starting to run like a smooth machine?

The state has spent $2.4 million to run the program, despite signing up fewer than 50 Floridians, said Rose Naff, CEO of the state exchange.

Oh, Um...never mind.

OK, so that's $2.4 million for 42 people, or $57,142 apiece, or slightly more than a 2015 Alfa Romeo 4C.

Put another way, that's 228x as much per enrollee as Healthcare.Gov.

Still, Naff insisted it is not a healthcare.gov vs. Florida Health Choices issue.

Well, that's a relief.

The Florida exchange, which started by selling discount plans with limited benefits, began selling Affordable Care Act compliant plans on Jan. 5.

Naff noted the exchange has only been open from that date to the end of open enrollment on Feb. 15. Open enrollment on the federal marketplace opened Nov. 15.

Yes, I'm sure that accounts for the difference.

Naff said the exchange will not expect to receive further state funding.

“This is going to be a self sustaining venture,” she said.

OK. Good luck with that.