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Health insurance bill's makeover turns the tide

The proposal by Rep. Frank Farkas sails through the House, but only after he makes major changes to it.

By ANITA KUMAR, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 20, 2002

The proposal by Rep. Frank Farkas sails through the House, but only after he makes major changes to it.

TALLAHASSEE -- Rep. Frank Farkas scored a victory Tuesday when the House passed his controversial health insurance bill, but with so many changes that it doesn't read like the one he proposed.

Farkas, R-St. Petersburg, who has been inundated with opposition to the plan, removed almost every item people found offensive. Opponents appeared satisfied.

"When this process began, I shared some concerns," said Rep. Doug Wiles, D-St. Augustine. "I'm going to suggest that it's probably not the monster it started out to be. . . . A bad bill has been made a heck of a lot better."

Under the bill (HB 913), insurance companies could offer low-cost plans to small companies with fewer than 50 employees. Farkas sees it as a way to help 1.3-million Floridians whose employers don't offer insurance.

It originally allowed companies to not cover certain procedures now required under state law, such as mammograms and treatments for HIV-related diseases and cleft palate. It also would have limited annual coverage to $10,000. That would lower the cost of insurance, but consumers feared that companies that now offer insurance would switch to the cheaper alternative.

Farkas agreed to restore all 26 procedures and to increase coverage to $25,000 annually and $500,000 for a lifetime.

Farkas, who employs a dozen people at his St. Petersburg chiropractic office, said other aspects of the insurance plan would lower the cost, such as flexible deductibles, co-pays and other treatments and procedures not mandated by law but often covered by insurance companies.

"You buy a plan tailored to your pocketbook," he said. "Right now, no plans allow you to have that flexibility."

The amended bill passed 113-2, with Rep. Susan Bucher, D-Lantana, and House Minority Leader Lois Frankel, D-West Palm Beach, voting no.

"A bare-bones policy has been given meat," said Rep. Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood. "It is a great step forward." A Senate bill (SB 1286) sponsored by Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Palm Harbor, that covers more aspects of insurance is expected to be debated this week.

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