From Kaiser Health News:
Ruth Titus, a 59-year-old cook from Taos, N.M., leaped at the opportunity in July to sign up for health insurance under a new federally subsidized program for uninsured people with health problems. With her history of bladder cancer, she said “it was hopeless to even look” for private coverage because she’d be turned down.
Titus is one of what some officials say has been an unexpectedly small number of people to sign up for the program, which was touted by the Obama administration as an early benefit of the new health overhaul law. It began last month in 30 states with the expectation that many thousands of uninsured people would apply for the opportunity to get comprehensive coverage regardless of their health status. But that hasn’t been the case.
About 3,600 people have applied and about 1,200 have been approved so far in state plans that started in the beginning of July, according to data from the states and federal government. Officials say the new plans, although a better deal than anything comparable on the private market, still may be unaffordable for many people. Eligibility requirements are another possible barrier. And states have had little time to publicize the plans.
It’s too soon to gauge the program’s impact. The plans won’t be up and running in all the states until September. But some officials are surprised.
“It’s early, but thus far interest in the program is lower than we expected,” said Michael Keough, executive director of the North Carolina Health Insurance Risk Pool, which started July 1. As of Tuesday, 314 people had applied and 158 had been approved.
GettingUSCovered, Colorado’s program, has received 204 applications; 108 people are enrolled. It’s a “very low number given that there are hundreds of thousands of uninsured in the state,” said Suzanne Bragg-Gamble, the executive director.
Many states were so worried about not being able to meet the demand for coverage with limited federal funding that 22 of them deferred to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to run the new plans as part of the Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan program. The other 28 states and the District of Columbia opted to start their own.
Questions About Affordability
Enrollees must pay premiums for their coverage, which is comprehensive and doesn’t exclude any pre-existing conditions. But the federal government is subsidizing the program with $5 billion until 2014 when the program ends because insurers will no longer be able to discriminate based on a person’s health status. Some analysts had predicted the money would run out before then, leaving states on the hook to help fund the plans or limit enrollment and benefits.
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