Second healthcare reform probe announced by panel

The House Energy and Commerce Committee on Tuesday afternoon asked President Obama’s health department to explain low participation in new temporary high-risk pools created by the reform law to provide health insurance to individuals who cannot obtain coverage because of a preexisting condition.

“There is reason for concern that early enrollment has proven sluggish despite early predictions that the [Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan] would show that the public was willing to embrace [the reform law],” wrote Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and oversight subpanel Chairman Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.).

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Shortly after the reform law passed, the chief actuary for the Medicare agency predicted 375,000 individuals would sign up for the new pools in 2010, but only about 8,000 have so far.

Asked about the discrepancy earlier this month, Medicare actuary Rick Foster told The Hill the low enrollment is a “surprise,” given that “millions of people” are eligible for the coverage.

“As the word gets out a little bit better, I think people will sign up because it's a great opportunity,” Foster said.

The Energy and Commerce Committee is asking Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to explain how the $5 billion provided for the high-risk pools will be spent.

This marks the committee’s second investigation into the reform law. Last week, Upton and Stearns asked HHS to disclose information on waivers granted for provisions of the reform law.

In November, HHS announced it would offer new benefits packages in the federally run high-risk pools in light of poor enrollment. HHS has said the slow uptake is similar to the performance of the Children’s Health Insurance Program when it started a decade ago.

Julian Pecquet contributed to this article.