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Rubio's 'Health Choices' policy comes up far short

The Florida Republican has championed a state-based health innovation -- which is a surprisingly expensive flop.
Sen. Marco Rubio
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., heads to the Senate floor for a vote on July 9, 2014
As Sen. Marco Rubio's (R-Fla.) presidential campaign gets underway in earnest, there's been a fair amount of attention this week focused on his background in government. The far-right lawmaker rejects the "inexperienced" label, and he has a point.
Before joining the U.S. Senate four years ago, the Florida Republican served nearly a decade in the state legislature, including two years as Florida's state House Speaker. Combined, that gives Rubio roughly 13 years in elected office -- more than recent Republican presidential nominees like Mitt Romney and George W. Bush combined.
The better question is what Rubio did while in office. At the federal level, the Florida Republican has no real legislative accomplishments to his name, but Politico reported this morning highlighted one of Rubio's most notable legislative feats during his tenure in Tallahassee.

In 2008, while Democrats were declaring that the time was right for national health care reform, Marco Rubio, the speaker of the Florida House, had a ready response: Florida should build a market-based system that would help contain the cost of insurance and make it more available. Rubio pushed his no-mandate health insurance exchange, dubbed Florida Health Choices, through the state Legislature that year. "It's about competition, it's about choice, and it's about the marketplace," he told The Palm Beach Post at the time. Florida Health Choices, which finally opened last year, now covers 80 people.

In case this isn't clear, "80 people" is literal. The figure doesn't represent some percentage of the state population; we're talking about 80 individual Floridians in a state with a population of nearly 20 million.
It's worth appreciating why the policy Rubio championed is such a dud.
As we discussed in September, the point of Florida Health Choices is to serve as something like an exchange marketplace, only without all the important parts.
Indeed, the entire project effectively exists to list "limited benefit options and discount plans for items like dental visits, prescription drugs and eyeglasses." The state has invested $2.4 million in this and it's helping 80 people.
Making matters slightly worse was the response Rubio's office gave to Politico in defense of the ineffective policy.

Rubio spokeswoman Brooke Sammon said the senator continues to support a "true free-market exchange," and she blamed Obamacare's subsidies for luring buyers away from Florida Health Choices. "What's in Obamacare is neither free-market or truly an exchange," she said. "It is unfortunate that this disastrous health care law is impacting the Florida Health Choices program, which is exactly the kind of consumer-based health care solution Americans are looking for."

This is just sad. The Affordable Care Act has brought access to affordable health care to 1.6 million Floridians -- Rubio's constituents -- and on every sensible metric, the law is performing extremely well.
If the junior senator from Florida doesn't want to admit the law is working, fine. No one likes conceding they were wrong, especially while running for president. Similarly, I don't seriously expect Rubio to acknowledge that his state-based policy is an expensive flop.
But it's probably worth asking, if Florida Health Choices is "exactly" the kind of policy people "are looking for," why has it helped a grand total of 80 people, while the ACA helps bring health security to tens of millions?