Because ObamaCare's primary insurance reforms don't kick in until 2014, the law's authors included a bridge program designed to provide immediate coverage to those with preexisting conditions. The state-based high-risk pools created by the law have been up and running for almost a year now, but enrollment is woefully low. In Maine, for example, just 14 people have signed up for the new plans, according to the Bangor Daily News:
Barely a dozen Mainers have signed up for an insurance plan that covers pre-existing conditions, which has been available in the state for nearly a year.
The federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which oversees the plan, is trying to get the word out that the coverage is available. But interest by subscribers has fallen short in Maine as well as the rest of the country.
This isn't the first time Maine has seen a government-run health insurance program struggle to maintain enrollment levels. In 2003, the state created Dirigo Care, a state-run health program that backers promised would cover each and every one of the state's 128,000 uninsured by 2009, and all without raising taxes. The program was given a one-time $53 million grant to get things started, but was sold on a promise of eventual self-sufficiency. Instead, the program resulted in a dual failure, costing far more than initial projections while failing to cover more than a small percentage of the state's uninsured.
In 2009, the year in which the program was to have successfully covered all of the uninsured, the uninsured rate still hovered around 10 percent—effectively unchanged from when the program began. At the highest point, only about 15,000 individuals were ever covered by the plan. Taxpayers and insurers, however, had picked up an additional $155 million in unexpected costs—all while the state was wading deeper into massive budget shortfalls and increased debt. Without sufficient enrollment, premium prices rose higher and higher, which, in turn, made it harder to sustain enrollment. The program has not been shut down, but because expected cost-savings did not materialize, it's been all but abandoned. In September 2009, just 9,600 individuals still recieved coverage through the program, less than 3,500 of whom were previously insured, according to the Maine Heritage Policy Center's Tarron Bragdon.
The story of Dirigo Care seems remarkably similar to what's playing out with the high-risk pools, and not just in Maine. According to The Washington Post, New Hampshire only managed to enroll about 80 members by December of last year. At the same time, however, the state managed to spend almost twice the $650,000 in federal money that had been set aside to fund the program.
But it's nothing a little more taxpayer money can't fix. Or at least that's what the Department of Health and Human Services seems to think. The Obama administration's health agency has already declared that it will spend even more money to advertise the high-risk pool program and expand its benefits.