High-risk pool enrollment up slightly, still lags

Asked about the discrepancy last month, Medicare actuary Rick Foster told The Hill the low enrollment is a “surprise,” given that “millions” 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.

HHS officials have the said low enrollment is typical for new federal health programs. They have compared the preexisting condition pool's rocky start to low participation first experienced by the Children’s Health Insurance Program.

“We are working every day to get the word out about this program, to find people who have been abandoned by the health insurance industry to get them the coverage they have been denied for so long,” said Steve Larsen, director of the Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight, which operates the program. In November, HHS introduced new benefit options to encourage enrollment.

In light of the low enrollment, Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee last month asked HHS to explain how $5 billion allotted for the program will be spent.

HHS also announced on Thursday new resources to spread the word about the high-risk pools. The department announced a new website, a Web “badge” so groups can link to the website, marketing tools for consumer groups and local governments, and new posters and brochures.