High-risk health insurance pools in the works, Sebelius says

The Obama administration began work on Friday to provide "immediate relief for potentially millions of Americans with pre-existing conditions, like diabetes or high-blood pressure, who have been shut out of the insurance system," according to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. She was referring to the reduced-rate, high-risk pools to which $5 billion will go into to insure individuals with pre-existing conditions before all insurance companies must accept these individuals in 2014.

Under the program, the federal government can operate the pool directly, or hire a nonprofit organization to run it in any state that does not want to do so. The health legislation, passed March 23, called for such pools to be established within 90 days. Sebelius wrote to states April 2 asking states to report back by the end of the month with how they want to proceed.

More than 30 states already have similar buying pools that insure some 200,000 U.S. residents, according to a report by the Kaiser Family Foundation in January, reports the Associated Press. The pools, all of which operate at a loss, paid a total of $1.9 billion in claims in 2008, according to a recent report by the Government Accountability Office.

To qualify for the high-risk pool, a consumer must have a pre-existing condition and must have been uninsured for the six months before filing an application. However, it is unclear how many people might qualify, how much they will have to pay in premiums, how existing state programs would be affected and whether $5 billion will be enough, according to the AP.

To learn more:
- read this Associated Press article
- read this New York Times article