Few enroll in health plans for pre-existing conditions

Despite an initially positive outlook, insurance plans for pre-existing conditions created under the health reform law are proving unattractive to customers.

The Department of Health and Human Services predicted that 375,000 people would sign up for the high-risk pool plans by the end of the year, but just 8,000 people had enrolled as of November, the Washington Post reports. Almost six million people are thought to be eligible for pre-existing condition coverage, according to Becker’s Hospital Review.

Federal officials contend the new insurance plans, designed solely for people who already are sick, are experiencing growing pains because it takes time to spread the word that they exist and to adjust prices and benefits so the plans are as attractive as possible, reports the Post.

"Like the rest of the country, we thought we'd have pretty much a stampede. That obviously hasn't materialized," said Michael Keough, executive director of North Carolina's plan. With nearly 700 participants, it has one-third of the people expected by now.

New Hampshire's plan only has about 80 members, but they already have spent nearly double the $650,000 the state was allotted in federal money to help run the program, said state Medicaid Director J. Michael Degnan. The spending, he told the Post, might slow down if it turns out that the early bills reflected a burst of pent-up need for care.

HHS has made some changes for 2011, including lowering premiums and offering two new options with varying deductibles, Richard Popper, HHS's deputy director for insurance programs, told the Post. The agency also is launching a more aggressive marketing campaign focused on states whose residents have not had any kind of high-risk pool in the past, Popper said.

To learn more:
- read the Washington Post article
- check out the Becker’s Hospital Review story

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