Obamacare

HHS to Spend More Money on Benefit Program (Almost) No One Has Signed Up For

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The folks at the Department of Health and Human Services appear to have noticed that ObamaCare's high-risk health insurance pools appear to be working roughly like this:

So far, just 18,000 people have signed up for the program. That's rather less than the 375,000 enrollees the administration had predicted would join the new plans, which don't discriminate based on preexisting conditions and are supposed to serve as a bridge program until 2014, when ObamaCare's exchanges and new regulations kick in. From The Wall Street Journal:

The Obama administration moved to make an insurance program for people with existing illnesses cheaper and more accessible for potential enrollees.

The Department of Health and Human Services said it will lower premiums in 18 states where the federal government runs high-risk insurance pools created by the 2010 health overhaul law.

This new action follows the launch of what The Washington Post described as "an aggressive marketing campaign" to promote the program at the beginning of the year. You have to wonder: How good can a government benefit be if the agency administering it has to resort to ever-more-expansive measures in order to entice people into accepting it?

Also: How does the administration plan to pay for the cheaper premiums offered under new rules?

The administration said Tuesday it will tap into the $5 billion the law allotted to run the plan to cut premiums by as much as 40% in the 18 states and also ease eligibility in those states as well as five others and District of Columbia where the federal government administers the plan. 

So the administration says it's paying for these cheaper premiums using the original $5 billion that was allocated for the program. But an administration official who supervises the program told The Los Angeles Times that the department has no estimate of how much the new rules will cost. And it won't say how much of the $5 billion has already been burned through either.

Why won't the administration say how much of the money has already been spent? I suspect the reason may have something to do with the fact that, despite ultra-low enrollment, we've already seen big cost overruns in some states. New Hampshire, for example, burned through twice its allocated $650,000 in federal money by December despite having just 80 enrollees. Now the administration wants to spend even more money to try to prop up the program, and is trying to do so without releasing an estimate of how much the rule changes will cost, or how much money is actually in the pot they want to draw from.