Obamacare: Barely implemented, but already over-budget and under-serving

One of the few programs already active in Obamacare is the Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Program, a temporary measure that provides money for states to establish high-risk health insurance pools for people with pre-existing conditions.

Unfortunately, the program's results so far leave much to be desired. The problem is not that it isn't working for the people in it. The problem is that very few people seem interested, and the government is paying through the nose just to accommodate the few who enrolled, The Washington Post reports:

Last spring, the Medicare program's chief actuary predicted that 375,000 people would sign up by the end of 2010. In early November, the Health and Human Services Department reported that just 8,000 people had enrolled. HHS officials refused to provide an update, although they collect such figures monthly, because they have decided to report them on a quarterly basis.

The idea of the high-risk pool is not unique to Obamacare. Several states had already established them, and they are an idea embraced by some conservative think tanks. They provide a way to cover individuals branded as uninsurable without ruining the insurance market for everyone else. But for some reason, the pools created by Obamacare are not attracting people.

Incredibly, the District of Columbia Obamacare high risk pool has zero participants. Only 97 people signed up in Maryland, although that may be partly  because the state already has a high risk pool with 1,900 participants.

The premiums are steep — although it makes sense that they would cost somewhat more than the average individual policy. For example, one user of the program in North Carolina said she pays $358, but the plan just paid for a $25,000 surgery that saved her life when she was uninsured. The program picked up the tab retroactively — which, incidentally, is another possible explanation for why people haven't rushed out to get into the pools and start paying monthly premiums, and also for why the pools in some states are running well over budget so far.

Obama certainly overestimated the positive reaction he would get from the public by promising to cover people with pre-existing conditions. Could he have also overestimated the number of people in that very dire situation who needed his help badly enough that they rush to take advantage?

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