By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal
JACKSON – Republican Gov. Haley Barbour will leave it to the federal government to operate a high-risk insurance pool for Mississippians with pre-existing conditions.
Mississippi is one of 18 states, mostly with Republican governors, to opt not to accept federal funds to set up the high-risk insurance pool.
The high-risk insurance pools are being established as part of the far-reaching health care bill passed earlier this year and signed into law by President Barack Obama.
“The reason Mississippi opted out is that we did not want it to turn into an unfunded mandate on the state,” said Dan Turner, a spokesman for Barbour.
Turner said the guaranteed federal funds “would cover about half or less of the people we anticipate would qualify for the program. … Rather than jump in on something that had the very real possibility of costing the state money, we opted out.”
Most of the states that opted out voiced similar concerns, according to published reports.
The new federal law sets aside $5 billion for the high-risk pools until the new regulations go into effect in 2014 and insurance companies can no longer not cover people because of pre-existing conditions. The federal government would have provided Mississippi $47 million over three and a half years to run the program.
In states that opt out, such as Mississippi, the federal government will have to run the high-risk pools.
The money for the new pools is supposed to be available by July 1. But it is not clear exactly when the pools will be set up and enrolling people. It is expected to happen this year, though.
Turner said the governor’s office estimates between 4,000 to 5,000 Mississippians would qualify for coverage through the high-risk pools, but that funds would be available to cover no more than half of those eligible. Turner said those figures could change based on the number of people who actually enroll and the claims those people make.
Under federal law, the people who enroll in the new pools will pay premiums equivalent to what healthy people pay. The people are not supposed to have to pay more than $5,950 per year for health care.
Many states, including Mississippi, already operate similar high-risk pools for people who have trouble finding insurance on the open market. But the premiums for the health insurance through the existing pools is often more than most people can afford, according to various published reports.
The surrounding states of Alabama, Tennessee and Louisiana also opted out of the newly created pools. The state had to notify the federal government by April 30 whether they were running a pool or opting out.