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Feds open health insurance pool for Idahoans with pre-existing conditions

Feds open health insurance pool for Idahoans with pre-existing conditions

Idaho Freedom Foundation staff
July 8, 2010

Idahoans struggling to buy health insurance due to pre-existing medical conditions can now apply for a federally-backed plan that’s one of the new changes of health care laws signed by President Barack Obama earlier this year.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) runs the new Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Pool.  The state of Idaho chose not to run the program due to concerns that federal funding would run out, leaving the state on the hook for the program providing insurance to people who often can’t get insurance because of certain lingering health conditions.  Idaho is one of 21 states, including Wyoming and Nevada, that chose to let HHS run the plan.

“Idahoans who have been unable to obtain health insurance due to a pre-existing condition will now have a new option,” Idaho Department of Insurance Director Bill Deal said in a news release.  “They will be able to purchase coverage comparable to that of a healthy individual.”  The state insurance department will refer people to the new federal plan, but won’t help HHS administer it.

The state of Idaho runs a similar high-risk insurance pool, which serves 1,500 people.  An estimated 34,000 people in the state with pre-existing conditions are uninsured.  The new federal insurance pool is open to legal U.S. residents with pre-existing conditions who haven’t had health insurance for six months or longer.

A new website for the federal program estimated that a 50-year-old Idahoan would pay between $374 and $457 a month for insurance that covers primary and specialty care, hospital visits, and prescription drugs.  The current premium for the basic plan in the state high-risk pool for a 50-year-old man who doesn’t smoke is $554 a month, though catastrophic health plans, which offer less benefits, can cost as little as $316 a month.

The new federal insurance pool is scheduled to last until 2014, when other changes to the national health care system will start.  The state of Idaho could have gotten $24 million from HHS to run the expanded pool, though Deal and Gov. Butch Otter said that might not have covered the cost of the program.

Idaho’s two U.S. senators, Mike Crapo and Jim Risch, share concerns that HHS will run out of money for the Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Pool.  They both signed a letter from Senate Republicans to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius last month saying the pool, currently budgeted to cost $5 billion, could need up to $10 billion more, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

Read the Idaho Department of Insurance's news release on the federal pool here. (pdf)

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