For Florida residents hoping to purchase coverage through the new health insurance exchange, options will largely depend on where they live, according to new information from the state's Office of Insurance Regulation.
As of this month, 10 insurance companies have received federal approval to sell Floridians health plans on the federally assisted health exchange, which rolls out Oct. 1.
However, not all companies will sell plans in all counties, said state insurance commissioner Kevin McCarty.
More than half of Florida's 67 counties will have only one or two insurance companies selling plans through the new marketplace. No county will offer plans from all 10, according to the commissioner's office.
South Floridians will have the most choice, while residents in rural areas have the least.
Broward and Miami-Dade counties will sell plans from nine federally approved insurers, and Palm Beach from eight.
In Central Florida, residents of Orange, Osceola and Lake counties will have options from five insurance companies, while Seminole and Volusia have six.
Insurers can offer a tiered set of plans, ranging from bronze (a leaner choice) to platinum (with the most benefits).
The new insurance marketplace is the kingpin of the health-care overhaul law, parts of which have been rolling out since its passage in 2010.
The marketplace will make health benefits available to the one-in-four Floridians who can't get insurance through their work or from Medicare, said Greg Mellowed, policy director of Florida CHAIN, a nonprofit whose mission is to make sure every Floridian has health coverage.
Those residents should familiarize themselves with the exchange, explore the varied levels of coverage available and understand the possible tax credits available to help make insurance affordable, Mellowe said.
Plans purchased through the exchange take effect Jan. 1.
Florida Blue dominates
To be part of the federal insurance exchange, Florida insurance companies had to apply. The process began earlier this year, said a spokeswoman from America's Health Insurance Plans, an insurance company trade association.
State insurance commissioners reviewed the applications, then passed them on to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for final certification.
Although McCarty's office knows which 10 companies have been approved to sell plans in Florida, his office would not disclose which companies would sell in each county.
"The companies have marked this information proprietary," said Wences Toncoso, deputy commissioner for the state insurance office.
The office will make the information public once the federal Department of Health does, he said.
However, a spokesman for Blue Cross Blue Shield made no secret that the state's largest insurer would be selling plans in all 67 Florida counties, making it the only insurer to do so.
"We will be in all counties, and will offer a range of benefit plans from richer to leaner to give people a choice," said Joe Gregor, vice president of consumer and exchange market for Florida Blue, the state brand for Blue Cross Blue Shield.
In 21 counties, Blue Cross Blue Shield will be the sole seller, a fact that came as "a surprise" to Gregor, who said that will not make the provider's rates higher.
"We expected competition in every market, and priced for competition," he said.
Population density and an insurer's current presence in a market will determine whether a county has nine providers or only one, Gregor said.
Still to come are details about what the individual plans will offer and what each will cost. "The form and rate review process is ongoing," said commissioner McCarty.
To qualify for tax credits available under the health-care overhaul, residents must get their insurance on the government exchange (healthcare.gov).
"The thirst for this information is quite substantial and is new to all of us," said Gregor. "What you thought you knew about insurance really changes completely beginning in 2014. Don't be surprised if the landscape is completely different in 2015."
However, he's looking forward to the new marketplace. "Generally speaking, more consumers will have more options for health coverage," Gregor said, "with fewer hoops to go through."
The big 10
Across Florida, these 10 plans will offer insurance plans on the exchange, but not all companies will sell plans in all counties. Depending on which county you live in, you may have from one to nine insurers from which to choose.
•Aetna Life Insurance Company
•Blue Cross Blue Shield of Florida
•Cigna Health and Life Insurance Company
•Coventry Health Care of Florida, Inc.
•Florida Health Care Plan, Inc.
•Health First Health Plans
•Health First Insurance Company
•Health Options, Inc.
•Humana Medical Plan, Inc.
•Molina Healthcare Of Florida, Inc.
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