Officials outline 'Basic Health Program'

Federal health officials released the framework for ObamaCare's long-awaited "Basic Health Program," an initiative designed to provide a scaled-down, lower-cost coverage option to people who cannot afford health plans on the new insurance exchanges.

In a proposed rule, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) stated that that the Health Program's certification, eligibility, enrollment and cost-sharing systems will echo those already in place for the insurance exchanges, Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program.

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The Basic Health Plan will be available to citizens who aren't eligible for Medicaid but might not be able to afford health coverage for the new insurance exchanges. Legally present non-citizens who qualify for the exchanges and those that would otherwise qualify for Medicaid may also enroll.

The proposed rule stated that the plans must meet the level of basic coverage established by the Affordable Care Act, including preventive care and emergency services. The plans cannot discriminate based on age or health condition, the rule said, and their monthly premiums cannot exceed the amount an enrollee would pay for the second lowest cost silver plan on the new marketplaces.

The Basic Health Program was originally supposed to launch next year, but federal health officials announced in February that they would delay the option until 2015. The decision drew criticism from Democrats and state-level advocates, including Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), who threatened to block a top healthcare nominee until CMS answered her questions about the delay.

Friday's proposed rule stated explicitly that abortion services are "prohibited from inclusion as essential health benefits."

"Federal funding for abortion services, except in the case of endangerment of the woman's life, rape or incest, is prohibited," the regulation stated.

Read the 119-page proposed rule here.