Sickest Americans Get 1-Month Reprieve From Obamacare

Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

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Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

The Healthcare.gov website is displayed on a laptop computer.

The expiring insurance program for sick Americans who’ve been refused coverage by private carriers will be extended for one month, as the U.S. government continues to fix the Obamacare health exchange intended as an alternative.

The federal government’s Pre-existing Condition Insurance Plan was due to expire on Dec. 31. People in the program who haven’t yet obtained new coverage will be able to stay through the end of January, Aaron Albright, a spokesman for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said today in an e-mail.

The reprieve for these “high-risk” pools that cover the sickest is among at least a half dozen delays in Obamacare provisions as the president seeks to give consumers more time and options to enroll in plans under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. He recently pushed back an application deadline and put off the opening of a small-business exchange.

“Extending the Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan will give tens of thousands of people with a history of cancer or another serious disease the security of knowing they will not face a costly gap in coverage on Jan. 1 if they cannot enroll in a marketplace plan,” Chris Hansen, president of the American Cancer Society’s lobbying office, said in an e-mail.

The health exchange and its website, healthcare.gov, was plagued by software errors and bugs at its start on Oct. 1, preventing hundreds of thousands of people from enrolling. Americans in 36 states using the federal system face a Dec. 23 deadline to sign up for coverage effective Jan. 1.

High-Risk Pool

The obstacles are most acute for people enrolled in the federal pre-existing condition plan, and in state-run insurance pools for people who are too sick to obtain coverage from private insurers. There are about 85,000 people enrolled in the federal program. About 200,000 are in state-run programs, some of which have been extended, according to the National Association of State Comprehensive Health Insurance Plans.

“We are taking steps to ensure that Americans enrolled in the federal PCIP insurance plan will not face a lapse when the new year begins,” Albright of CMS said of today’s change. “We are committed to providing consumers additional flexibilities while they evaluate and select a quality, affordable, health plan that meets their needs.”

$5 Billion Program

The 2010 Affordable Care Act, commonly called Obamacare, prohibits insurers from denying coverage to sick people beginning in 2014. Congressional Democrats included the federal high-risk pool in the law as an immediate stop-gap program for people who had been denied coverage by insurers and couldn’t wait four years for medical underwriting to be outlawed.

The law provided $5 billion for the program, and enrollment was initially slow. The plan gained steam and eventually signed up about 135,000 people at its peak. Enrollment was closed in February as funding began to dwindle, and the program was expected to be obviated by the end of the year as new insurance exchanges opened nationwide offering coverage without regard to customers’ health status.

Today’s extension doesn’t affect high-risk insurance pools for sick people independently run by 35 states. Those plans have varying expiration dates and will extend beyond Jan. 1 in some states, according to the national association for the programs.

To contact the reporter on this story: Alex Wayne in Washington at awayne3@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Reg Gale at rgale5@bloomberg.net

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