County survey says CHOICES met goals

Current and former members answered questions by phone.

Published: Sunday, January 9, 2011 at 11:29 p.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 9, 2011 at 11:29 p.m.

A recently released county-funded survey of CHOICES members current and past concluded that the program has primarily met its goals of cutting enrollees' health care costs, improving their overall health and allowing health care access to workers without insurance.

The county paid the Florida Survey Research Center at the University of Florida $36,720 to conduct the survey in August and September. A total of 339 current members and 142 former members participated in a telephone survey. There were in-person discussion groups with 16 members, each of whom received a $50 stipend to participate.

Health care providers, CHOICES advisory board members and county commissioners also were surveyed.

Michael Scicchitano, with the Florida Survey Research Center, described the feedback as "very positive." He said that during in-person interviews, members described how access to affordable, medical, dental and vision care had a "very profound impact" on their quality of life.

The survey was funded through the general fund portion of the county's Community Support Services Department's budget, not the quarter-cent sales tax for CHOICES.

The survey showed that 14.5 percent of current members had gone one to two years without coverage before CHOICES; 53.1 percent had gone at least two years; and an additional 13 percent had never had coverage.

"It was a pretty strong set of information showing that the people being served had been without coverage for a while," CHOICES Director Bob Bailey said.

Here is a summary of some other results:

Of the current members, 28.3 percent rated their health as "excellent" and 56.1 percent rated it as "good." By comparison, for the year before they joined CHOICES, 17.4 percent rated their health as "excellent," and 43.7 percent rated their health as "good." Nearly 38 percent stated their health improved while in CHOICES.

More than 41 percent of current CHOICES members reported missing fewer days of work because of illness since joining the program, and 56.5 percent reported spending less money on health care.

Among former CHOICES members, 65.5 percent reported being "very satisfied" with the program. Of former members, 86.1 percent rated their health as either "excellent" or "good" while they were in CHOICES, compared with 73.5 percent who ranked their health as such after the program.

Samples of feedback from the member discussion groups showed that many members could not afford medical, dental or vision care before CHOICES.

In a interview, Justine McCoy, a CHOICES member who serves on the program's advisory board, described herself as a small-business owner, publisher of a local pet-oriented magazine called Critter, who could not afford health insurance and went years without coverage before joining CHOICES.

"People criticize the program. They think it's like welfare," McCoy said "They don't understand it's for people like me who are working but fall through the cracks."

Problems members cited during the "focus group" discussion included confusion among some medical care providers over the program's co-payments and conflicting information at hospitals whether CHOICES covered emergency room visits. It does not.

Bailey believed the overall findings were "pretty positive."

"It seems to me the conclusion was that CHOICES is fundamentally meeting the goals of the program," he said.

While she had not yet had an opportunity to read the 158-page survey report, County Commissioner Susan Baird offered a different point of view. A vocal critic of CHOICES, Baird believed annual expenditures — more than $7.9 million last year, were too high for an enrollment of approximately 3,500. She also criticized spending on health, wellness and exercise classes open to all residents, saying they were outside the scope of the program's purported intent.

"What they intended the program as and what it turned out to be are two totally different things," she said.

The enacting ordinance for CHOICES stated that the program was established to provide health care access to the working uninsured and to fund "innovative, cost effective health care programs" open to all county residents, regardless of their income.

Bailey said staff would like to schedule a presentation on the survey report at the Jan. 25 County Commission meeting.

Contact Christopher Curry at 374-5088 or

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