California Healthline Daily Edition

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Enrollment in High-Risk Pools Continues To Lag, New HHS Figures Show

Enrollment in the high-risk insurance pools created under the federal health reform law increased by nearly 50% between early November 2010 and February 2011, but participation still is far below expectations, according to new enrollment figures released by HHS on Thursday, Modern Healthcare reports (Zigmond, Modern Healthcare, 2/10).

Details of High-Risk Pools

In July 2010, HHS launched the Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan to provide coverage to individuals with pre-existing conditions prior to 2014, when private insurers are required to accept all applicants. Washington, D.C., and more than two dozen states opted to launch their own pools, while more than 20 others states deferred to HHS to run the program (California Healthline, 7/20/10).

In April 2010, federal officials estimated that about 375,000 residents would gain coverage through the high-risk pools. By November 2010, only 8,011 people had enrolled in the pools, and by mid-January 2011, the enrollment count had edged up slightly to about 10,000, according to HHS officials (California Healthline, 1/31).

However, the latest enrollment figures from HHS show that participation in the high-risk pools continues to lag, as only about 12,500 people had joined the pools by the beginning of February 2011, the Washington Post reports.

High Premiums, Low Awareness Still Key Issues

Federal officials initially predicted that the enrollment figures would increase once more U.S. residents learned about the pools and their benefits, noting that similar enrollment issues are common in new federal health programs (Goldstein, Washington Post, 2/10).

Based on the low enrollment figures last year, officials and observers suggested that high premiums, strict eligibility criteria and insufficient publicity likely were to blame for the minimal interest in the pools (California Healthline, 8/20/10).

According to the Post, state health officials and consumers have continued to cite the high premium costs and low awareness of the program in many communities as the key reasons for the lagging enrollment (Washington Post, 2/10). Last month, the House Energy and Commerce Committee -- prompted by the low enrollment numbers -- launched an investigation into the implementation of the high-risk pools program and how HHS was spending the $5 billion allotted in the health reform law for the program, The Hill's "Healthwatch" notes.

HHS Announces Initiatives To Build Awareness

On Thursday, HHS also announced new initiatives designed to promote the high-risk pools, including:

  • A new website;
  • A Web "badge" that health care groups can use to link to the new website;
  • Marketing tools for consumer groups and local governments; and
  • New posters and brochures (Millman, "Healthwatch," The Hill, 2/10).
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