Florida Gov. Jeb Bush today signed a wide-ranging bill designed to lower the cost of health insurance and require public disclosure of procedure price as well as patient-safety information.
The new law, which will take effect July 1, creates the Florida Patient Safety Corp., which will study hospitals' mistakes and recommend ways to avoid them. It requires hospitals to provide information on pricing and performance, as well as written estimates.
"When you shop for groceries, you can shop in the newspaper, when you shop for cars, you can compare prices," said state Rep. Frank Farkas (R-St. Petersburg). "But try to do that for a surgical procedure in a hospital or try to do that for a prescription drug. You can't."
The heart of the bill Farkas sponsored attempts to create less expensive options for healthcare coverage.
One provision seeks to lower premiums by requiring insurers to make high-deductible plans available to small employers. Those plans would be linked to health savings accounts, which are similar to Individual Retirement Accounts. Employees would be able to put money in the account tax-free and then use it for healthcare. Unused money can be used for any purpose after the account holder turns 65.
The idea is to encourage people to manage their own healthcare and hopefully make it cheaper.
"This empowers consumers--patients, people--to make decisions for themselves, and in doing so I think there will be a greater emphasis on prevention," Bush said. "And if people are healthier, their costs and the cost to society will go down dramatically."
Another provision expands the experimental Health Flex program that permits insurers, health maintenance organizations, local governments and other entities to offer stripped-down insurance coverage to low-income people.
Health insurance companies often cite a list of more than 50 benefits they're required to cover--from maternity care to tests for certain types of cancer--as a big reason insurance costs so much. Low-income Floridians can now be offered a plan that doesn't have much of the required coverage.
The new law also lets small businesses that can't afford to buy health coverage for their employees to band together to try for get better rates. A company with a few workers may not be able to afford insurance, but possibly could if it joined several other small companies in a purchasing pool.
"This will help reverse what has been a temporary tide of more uninsured," Bush said.