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California Set To Insure High-Risk Patients

On April 29, Governor Schwarzenegger signed legislation that established the state’s federally funded high-risk insurance pool. This week that insurance pool is accepting its first enrollee applications.

That means the government set up a complicated government program in about four months. In state bureaucracy terms, that is the blink of an eye.

“We’ve been working nights and weekends trying to make this happen,” Deputy Director for Legislative and External Affairs at the Managed Risk Medical Insurance Board Jeanie Esajian said.

“The governor asked us to move on this,” Esajian said. “We’ve had MRMIP (the smaller, state-run Major Risk Medical Insurance Program) for 18 years, and it could never service the number of patients who needed it,” she said. “This is something we all believe in, and we’re eager see it happen.”

High-risk pools are designed to insure those who can’t get health insurance. MRMIB is the board that runs MRMIP, which serves about 7,100 people in California. But Esajian said the need in the state is much greater than that, and that’s what the new Pre-existing Condition Insurance Plan is designed to address.

The new program will be run by the state using MRMIP as a model, and will be paid for with federal dollars. Officials hope the $761 million in federal funds over the next three years will enroll up to 25,000 monthly subscribers.

There has been enormous interest in the program, Esajian said. “We’ve been taking names for quite a long time,” she said. “We had about 5,500 people on the interest list.” Once the duplicates were culled out, the agency sent out approximately 3,800 applications last week.

“We’ve had people return them already,” Esajian said. “People have been waiting for this day for a long time. There are so many people, so many sad situations that people are in, so we’re really happy we can do this for people.”

The PCIP coverage is expected to start at the end of this month.

Federal rules require applicants to the new federal program to have been without health care coverage for six months. That means existing MRMIP subscribers are not eligible for PCIP. Individuals may apply for both programs at the same time to see which program is right for them, Esajian said.

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