Health plan for preexisting conditions gaining in popularity

However, enrollment remains far below the expectations of health reform architects.

By Doug Trapp — Posted May 13, 2011

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Enrollment in a federal-state insurance program for people with preexisting conditions reached 18,313 by the end of March, an increase of nearly 6,000 since Feb. 1, according to data released May 6 by the Dept. of Health and Human Services.

The Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan -- created by the health system reform law -- provides coverage to U.S. citizens who have been both uninsured for at least six months and denied health insurance because of at least one medical condition. Premiums are more expensive than traditional health insurance, with older Americans facing the highest costs, but are less expensive than many similar state insurance programs.

Despite the recent uptick, total program enrollment has been considered lackluster. The Congressional Budget Office had estimated that 200,000 people would register for PCIP each year, one of the more conservative enrollment estimates provided.

In response to the lack of interest, HHS lowered premiums this year by 20% in the 23 states where it administers the program. Twenty-seven states elected to run their own high-risk pools.

Enrollment increased in most states between Feb. 1 and March 31, but it nearly doubled in California, New Jersey, Oregon and Utah. Sign-ups more than doubled in Washington state. Generally, enrollment was higher in states running their own preexisting condition programs than in states where HHS administers the program. Enrollment began in the federal program on July 1, 2010, and at the same time or later in state-run programs.

The five states with the highest enrollment are: Pennsylvania, 2,684; California, 1,543; Texas, 1,298; Illinois, 1,150; and North Carolina, 1,106. The latest enrollment figures are available online (link).

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