Another Obamacare extension
By: Jason Millman
December 12, 2013 03:44 PM EST
The Obama administration moved Thursday to protect some of the sickest patients in the country from the possibility that they would lose health insurance on New Year’s Day.
Medically needy patients enrolled in temporary high-risk pools now have an extra month to sign up for new coverage because of early enrollment struggles in Obamacare nationwide, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services announced. The extension seems to be the Obama administration’s first tacit acknowledgement that it can’t guarantee that everybody who wants to obtain coverage starting Jan. 1 will be able to do so.
The federal Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan, or PCIP, which has provided coverage to about 135,000 people previously shut out of coverage, was to sunset at the end of the year, but it instead has been extended through January for those in the program who haven’t yet gotten new coverage.
“Today, as part of our efforts to smooth the transition to the Marketplaces for those seeking coverage that begins in January, we are taking steps to ensure that Americans enrolled in the federal PCIP insurance plan will not face a lapse when the new year begins,” CMS spokesman Aaron Albright said in a statement. “We are committed to providing consumers additional flexibilities while they evaluate and select a quality, affordable, health plan that meets their needs.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell quickly blasted the announcement as a “clear admission” that the health care law is failing people with pre-existing conditions.
“Millions of people were tossed off of the plans they already had, but only a fraction of that number have been able to sign up on the Obamacare exchanges,” McConnell said in a statement to POLITICO. “How many extensions and waivers is it going to take for the administration to admit the consequences of Obamacare that are hitting millions of Americans they promised it would help?”
The PCIP program was included in the Affordable Care Act as a temporary bridge to 2014, when insurers can no longer deny coverage to patients with pre-existing conditions or charge them more based on health status. The individuals at risk here may be fighting cancer or dealing with chronic diseases like diabetes or asthma.
A number of states running high-risk pools that predate the Affordable Care Act are also slated to close them at the end of December. Others, including Indiana and Texas, have already extended their high-risk pools, which are separate from the federal program.
The national association representing state high-risk pools had recently called for a three-month PCIP extension, but it labeled Thursday’s announcement “acceptable” and cautioned the administration to be flexible if enrollment problems continue.
The administration “must constantly assess the situation, and if problems persist, a longer extension should be considered,” said Tanya Case, chairwoman of the National Association of State Comprehensive Health Insurance Plans.
Enrollment in PCIP was shut off months ago to stretch the Affordable Care Act’s $5 billion appropriation for the program until the end of the year. CMS said Thursday that it has enough funding to cover expected costs in January. It didn’t specify how many PCIP participants have found new coverage since the Oct. 1 start of Obamacare enrollment.
Kirsten Sloan, a senior policy director for the American Cancer Society’s advocacy arm, said cancer advocates are “pleased” with the extension. “It gives a person with cancer a little more time to select a plan and more important, it makes sure there is no interruption in their coverage for someone going through treatment,” Sloan said.
Asked if she’s confident that everyone who wants coverage by New Year’s Day can have it, Sloan said: “We’re watching that, along with everyone else. But we’re hopeful.”