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Iowa facing deadline on high-risk health pools
Thousands of uninsured Iowans with pre-existing health conditions could receive coverage years earlier than originally thought if state officials decide to participate in a new federal insurance pool.
The Obama administration announced earlier this month that it was establishing a temporary insurance pool where uninsured people with medical problems could buy coverage at reduced rates. The state has until Friday afternoon to decide whether to opt in to the new program and accept federal money to augment its current high-risk insurance pool.
A spokesman for Gov. Chet Culver could not be immediately reached for comment.
“This is an opportunity for the state to show whether it is ready to put a critical component of health reform — covering people with pre-existing conditions — on a faster track,” said Andrew Cannon, research associate for the nonpartisan Iowa Policy Project and author of a new policy brief on the topic.
Cannon said more than 34,500 Iowans could be eligible for Iowa’s existing high-risk pool or a new one the state may create if the state chooses to act now. The federal health-reform legislation allocated $5 billion nationally to states to provide temporary coverage as a bridge to full implementation of health reform, which will require all insurance companies to accept applicants without consideration of a person’s medical condition by 2014.
Iowa created its high-risk pool program in 1987, now known as the Health Insurance Plan of Iowa (HIPIowa). It serves 2,732 state residents.
High-risk pools such as HIPIowa are designed to help individuals who do not have health insurance through work, do not qualify for Medicaid and cannot afford or qualify for individual coverage because of a pre-existing medical condition. HIPIowa’s premiums are about half as expensive as the standard rate for plans sold on the private market, Cannon said, but in many cases those premiums still exceed potential enrollees’ ability to pay.
“Despite the limitations, though, these high-risk pools present a valuable stopgap measure until the full implementation of health reform in 2014,” Cannon said. “Iowa’s participation could open the door to quality insurance coverage for thousands of uninsured Iowans with pre-existing conditions.”
Federal health officials said the program would be available from late June of this year to Jan. 1, 2014, when health care reform legislation fully kicks in.
California, Montana, Pennsylvania, Washington and Wisconsin have announced they intend to operate the program under contract with the federal government. Georgia, Indiana, Nebraska, Nevada and Wyoming have declined, citing fears that federal money may not last throughout the entire three-and-a-half-year period before health reform legislation is fully implemented. They point to a study by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services that predicted the money might only last until 2011 or 2012.