Interim high risk pool may not significantly reduce ranks of medically uninsured
High risk health insurance pools to cover Americans with pre-existing medical conditions who fall short of medical underwriting standards of individual market insurers and managed care plans must be in place within 90 days of the March 23 enactment of the Patient Protection and Affordability Act. That mandate was put in place by H.R. 3590, Subtitle B, Section 1101.
Going forward, several aspects bear watching. Among them is how states — the majority of which already have high risk pools in place — implement the pool in their jurisdictions and conform their existing high risk pools to the new federal requirements.
In the interim before the high risk pool mechanism ends Jan. 1, 2014 and health insurance purchasing exchanges that must accept all applicants regardless of pre-existing medical conditions start up, a key question will be the number of people who actually sign up for high risk coverage. The number in large part will be driven by the size of the premiums.
California’s high risk pool, the Managed Risk Medical Insurance Program (MRMIP), is required by statute to set premiums 125 to 137 percent of standard market rates and has an annual coverage cap of $75,000 and a lifetime limit of $750,000. Currently the program covers just 7,100 Californians — a tiny fraction of the 1 million potentially medically uninsured Golden State residents projected by Harbage Consulting in 2008.
MRMIP has been limited on the supply side by enrollment caps due to limited funding and on the demand side by relatively high premiums. HR 3590 requires premiums to be established at a “standard rate for a standard population” that can vary based upon age, an important factor considering a large segment of medically uninsurable are between 50 and 64 years old. For the oldest members of the pool, premiums are limited to four times those charged the youngest members of the pool.
Standard rates however are on an upward trajectory as evidenced by a sharp increase being implemented for indemnity-based policies by California’s dominant player Anthem Blue Cross. Those rates if ultimately approved by the California Department of Insurance would be as high as those previously charged those in the MRMIP pool. For many, they would likely prove unaffordable. Particularly in a tepid economy that some economists predict won’t fully recover until the high risk pools are slated to end in 2014.
The upshot is HR 3590’s temporary high risk pool may not make much of a dent in the number of medically uninsured not covered through employment-based insurance or government insurance programs.