Deadline Looms for “High Risk” Enrollees

According to an article in the Wall Street Journal, there is a significant segment of high risk individuals with pre-existing medical conditions currently enrolled in a federal health insurance program that is slated to close on March 31, 2014. This federal program was created shortly after the 2010 health law was passed to offer assistance to those people who couldn’t get coverage from commercial insurers because of their pre-existing medical conditions. There was $5 billion in funding set aside to cover this group’s medical claims through December 31, 2013.

Participation in the program started slowly, but at its peak covered more than 100,000 people. Because of the rocky start to the Health Insurance Exchanges, the program’s closure was postponed until January 31, 2014, and then postponed again by the government to March 31 to give people time to move to the new plans offered under the exchanges.

According to the WSJ, thousands of people are still on the program’s books. While the administration hasn’t given an exact number, the article reported there were about 22,300 people still enrolled through the end of January. The reasons people remain in this program are unclear, according to the WSJ. The health law was essentially designed to guarantee they could get coverage in the commercial market. Some disease-advocacy groups are suggesting that some participants may be in the middle of treatment and would not be able to change insurance coverage at the present time.

The Obama administration has made provisions in the health law because of technical problems in implementing it, but this high risk program puts the administration in a tough position now as the deadline approaches because it has taken responsibility for this group of vulnerable people and could face further criticism if it were seen to be dumping them.

According to the article, it is still unknown whether the administration plans to extend the program again.