Health Law Kicks In with High-Risk Pool

By Corey Hutchins, Free Times


South Carolinians who have been rejected by health insurance companies because they suffer from a pre-existing condition can now apply for coverage at affordable rates under a temporary program offered by the federal government.

It’s a type of bridge program that will carry forward until 2014 when American health insurance companies will no longer be able to say no to people with pre-existing conditions. Currently, private health insurance companies can deny coverage to applicants based on their prior medical conditions.

Those who qualify could tap into the new high-risk pool starting this month.

The deadline for states to either expand their own high-risk health insurance pools with federal subsidies or have the federal government implement a high-risk pool was July 1.
South Carolina, along with 19 other states, decided not to expand its pool, says Frank Knapp, president of the South Carolina Small Business Chamber of Commerce.

But that was actually a good thing for residents, according to him.

“It would be better for the federal government to run this program for South Carolina, because you don’t want someone running a program that doesn’t want the program [or] that wants to kill health care reform,” Knapp says. “You don’t want to get in a car with a driver who says ‘I don’t want to drive.’”

In order to qualify for the new high-risk health insurance program, applicants cannot have had health insurance for the past six months and must have had a problem getting it in the past because of a pre-existing condition.

The program is being administered by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. It’s called the Pre-existing Condition Insurance Plan; applicants can apply at Under the plan, $74 million is allocated to South Carolina to subsidize premiums for those with pre-existing conditions.

It is unclear exactly how much health insurance will cost under the plan, but because it’s subsidized it should be substantially less than one would expect to see in the state’s own high-risk pool, according to John Ruoff, research director for South Carolina Fair Share, a Columbia-based nonprofit that fights for social justice.

Proponents of health care reform worry the public hasn’t learned enough about how the industry will change — and when it will change — since President Obama signed the new legislation into law in March.

They might have reason to be cynical.

From June 2009 to March 2010, health care was the No. 1 story in the mainstream press, according to a June 21 report by the Pew Research Center Project for Excellence in Journalism.

Unfortunately, a solid majority of Americans consistently said the health care debate was hard to understand. The number increased from 63 percent in July 2009 to 69 percent in December 2009, according to surveys from the Pew Research Center for the People & Press.

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