Report: States better than feds in getting sick people enrolled in high-risk pools

States are doing a much better job than the federal government at getting sick people enrolled in the healthcare reform law's high-risk pools, according to a new report.

As of April 30, the Government Accountability Office found, the 27 states that operate their own pools had enrolled 15,781 people with pre-existing conditions. The federally-operated pool for the 23 other states and the District of Columbia, by contrast, only had 5,673 enrollees.

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The report, requested by Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee ranking member Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.), found three main reasons for the low enrollment figures: the requirement that enrollees be uninsured for six months prior to applying; premiums that can be unaffordable to many; and a lack of awareness about the program.

The report found that enrollment figures ranged from 0 in Vermont and 1 in Massachusetts (both operated by the Department of Health and Human Services) to 3,191 in the state-run Pennsylvania pool.

Democrats' healthcare reform law set aside $5 billion to help people with pre-existing conditions obtain affordable coverage before insurance exchanges go online in 2014. The program has come under criticism for failing to meet expectations, with fewer than 22,000 people enrolled as of April 30, far short of the 200,000 to 350,000 that had been predicted.

The program's early failure in Vermont is especially noteworthy because federal officials last year rejected two proposals by the Green Mountain State to run its own pool. Vermont had proposed expanding its existing health insurance programs or working with Blue Cross and Blue Shield to establish a new program, according to the Burlington Free Press, but HHS rejected the proposals in part because they would not have been effective soon enough to comply with the law.

In its response to the report, HHS said it has improved its enrollment efforts since the program first started in June 2010. The department points to increased outreach efforts, lower premiums and expanded eligibility, as well as its decision to pay agents and brokers for getting people enrolled starting this fall.

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