POLITICS

No Update On Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan

09/30/2010 12:59 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The Department of Health and Human Services has provided no updates since the beginning of August on the progress of its program to provide health insurance to the uninsurable, though Democrats in Congress and the administration have frequently touted the program, a top Republican idea, as one of the best "early deliverables" of health care reform.

How much is it delivering?

As of early August, just 750 people had been approved for coverage in the 22 states where the federal government is running the $5 billion program, which launched in July and is called the Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan. Kaiser Health News reported that "about 1,200 have been approved so far in state plans that started in the beginning of July."

Nobody asked Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius about the program at a Christian Science Monitor breakfast on Thursday morning. Sebelius refused to answer questions from HuffPost about the PCIP as she was leaving the hour-long press event.

A spokeswoman said there's no update now anyway.

There are an estimated four million people uninsured because of pre-existing conditions, but the programs' administrators expect it to cover only 350,000 until 2014, when each state will set up a health care "exchange" for people to buy affordable coverage. The apparent obstacles are pricey premiums and not enough funding.

Asked what would happen if Republicans succeeded in cutting off funding to programs created by health care reform, Sebelius said, "Cutting off money to pre-existing pools will mean that whoever's enrolled in those plans will, I gather, not have benefits, or drop them."

But the Republicans' alternate health care reform proposal is basically a giant high-risk pool. "We are committed to repealing ObamaCare and replacing it with common-sense reforms that lower cost, including our high-risk pool proposal, which is superior to the one in Washington Democrats' law," said a spokesman for House Republican leader Rep. John Boehner (Ohio) in an email to HuffPost two weeks ago.

It's based on state high-risk pools, which covered 200,000 people in 35 states. The new version is designed to be slightly more affordable than state versions, but monthly premiums can be as high as $900 for older people. The new pools don't exclude coverage for certain conditions as the state pools sometimes do, but it does require applicants to be uninsured for at least six months before they can apply.

"Amazingly, deadlines have been met in a very timely fashion," said Sebelius about the broader implementation of the new law. "As the benefits begin to kick in, what we're hearing from people is they're beginning to understand what the framework is for the Affordable Care Act."

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