Saturday, May 05, 2007

Health 5-04-07

The House agreed Tuesday on legislation that would extend health care coverage to thousands of "high-risk" people who have otherwise been denied coverage or asked to pay premiums they cannot afford. The bill, House Bill 265, passed its final reading in the House by a vote of 104-11. An amendment was defeated that would have required the pool to be financed with money out of the state's general fund. Members opposed the measure because they wanted to ensure money for the pool came from a steady, reliable source that would not get tied in with the yearly budget negotiations. The measure goes to the Senate, where the chamber's leaders say they will support its passage. Thirty-six states already have similar pools.

Under the bill, people enrolling in the high-risk pool would pay about two-thirds of the program's costs through their premiums. The remaining cost would be covered by cost reductions negotiated with medical providers and by a monthly assessment on all health care insurers in the state. The projected assessment would be 4 cents per enrolled member per month in 2009 and 92 cents per month per enrolled member in 2019. An estimated 13,000 people are expected to enroll in the pool. The bill is supported by the state's largest insurers, who believe it is an important step to expanding health care coverage to the estimated 1.4 million uninsured people in North Carolina. The North Carolina Justice Center, which also supports the bill, estimates that every insured person in the state already pays $438 a year in extra premium costs to cover health care for the state's uninsured.

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