Federal High Risk Pools Extended For A Month

Participants in the federal high-risk pool created in the health law will have another month to find coverage, the Obama administration announced Friday.

In a notice posted on the Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan website, officials announced that program enrollees who have not yet purchased coverage through the health law’s online marketplaces, or exchanges, could keep their current coverage until April 30 while they continue their search. But they must enroll in a new plan by April 15 to avoid any gaps in coverage.

This is the third extension for the program, known as PCIP, which was previously set to close Dec. 31, 2013. Existing funds will be used to cover the extension.

PCIP, which started in 2010, has helped people with pre-existing conditions obtain health coverage. These consumers in the past were often turned away by commercial insurers. Under health law rules that went into effect Jan. 1, insurers can no longer deny coverage based on an individual’s medical record.

Federal officials also said that the remaining seven states still running their own PCIP programs have the option to extend the deadline for a month.

In an email, a Department of Health and Human Services spokesperson said the extension was done “as part of our continuing effort to help smooth consumers’ transition into Marketplace coverage.”

The extension was one of several changes the administration has made as it nears the end of the March 31 enrollment period. Other adjustments include a broad set of regulatory changes announced earlier this month that would give some consumers additional time to stay in plans that do not comply with the health law’s coverage requirements and would extend the open enrollment period for 2015 to give all consumers more time to consider plans then.

According to HHS, about 20,000 people are enrolled currently in federal and state high-risk pools run under PCIP. Since its beginning, the program has served more than 135,000 people.

Patient groups cheered the move. “We’re pleased cancer patients and survivors with health coverage through the Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan can keep it for another month, so they can avoid a gap in coverage,” the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network said in a statement. “We encourage patients in PCIP to look at other insurance options, including the health insurance marketplace at healthcare.gov, as soon as possible so they are assured of coverage beyond the short term.”

In late  December, federal officials announced that they would extend the program — scheduled to close at the end of 2013 — until the end of January to give people more time to enroll in health plans through state and federal insurance enrollment websites, many of which had been riddled with problems. In mid-January they announced a two-month extension until March 31.