Jul 2, 2010

Healthcare Update: Health Law Risks Turning Away Sick

The Obama administration has not ruled out turning sick people away from an insurance program created by the new healthcare law to provide coverage for the uninsured. Wait, what? Let me get some popcorn.

Critics of the $5 billion high-risk pool program insist it will run out of money before Jan. 1, 2014. That’s when the program sunsets and health plans can no longer discriminate against people with pre-existing conditions.

Administration officials insist they can make changes to the program to ensure it lasts until 2014, and that it may not have to turn away sick people.

Officials said the administration could also consider reducing benefits under the program, or redistributing funds between state pools. But they acknowledged turning some people away was also a possibility. Now this is getting good.

“There’s a certain amount of money authorized in the statute, and we will do our best to make sure that that amount of money insures as many people as possible and does as much good as possible,” said Jay Angoff, director of the Office of Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). “I think it’s premature to say [what happens] when it’s gone.”

The administration has not discussed asking Congress for more money down the line if the $5 billion runs out before Jan. 1, 2014. Uninsured sick people could start applying for participation in the high-risk insurance pools on Thursday. Hell, three people could burn through that, depending on how they get billed.

Healthcare experts of all stripes warned during the healthcare debate that $5 billion would likely not last until 2014. Millions of Americans cannot find affordable healthcare because of their pre-existing conditions, and that amount would only cover a couple hundred thousand people, according to a recent study by the chief Medicare actuary. Isn't that what I just said?

Republicans continued to hammer that point on Thursday, asking HHS officials to brief them about the program. I'm surprised they're not screaming this point on the roof tops yet. Eh, give them a couple more weeks.

But remember, it's mandatory. So even if they can't cover you, you're still required to buy it.

Tell you what, just walk it off or have an aspirin. And don't call the doctor in the morning. There might be enough left in the bucket for a hearse to stop by and remove your remains.

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