Thursday, December 07, 2000

Health plan takes applicants

But high-risk insurance program has skeptics

By Mark R. Chellgren
The Associated Press

        FRANKFORT — The state-subsidized insurance program for those who most need the coverage is now taking applications — and officials say rates will be lower than those available from private insurers.

        Insurance Commissioner George Nichols said creation of the high-risk pool has not yet meant the 10 percent reduction in the cost of private insurance for individual policyholders that was the target, but said that could still be achieved.

        Skeptics received little comfort from the unveiling of the coverage plans and prices on Wednesday.

        “We're not satisfied this thing is going to play out in a fair and equitable manner,” said Jane Chiles, director of the Catholic Conference of Kentucky and a leading health insurance advocate. “This is a scary population to be experimenting with. Their access to quality health care is more important than the vast majority of people.”

        The 2000 General Assembly created the high-risk pool in the latest round of tinkering with health insurance. Starting in 1994, with a failed attempt at forcing insurance companies to cover everyone and capping rates, the insurance market has been in disarray in Kentucky.

        All but two companies fled the state and refused to provide coverage for individuals. Two companies have announced they will begin offering coverage to individu als and a third is expected. Mr. Nichols said the return of competition in the market should make insurance more available and less expensive.

        In the meantime, people who cannot get insurance or who have health conditions that make coverage prohibitively expensive can go to the high-risk pool, now called Kentucky Access. Cost of coverage is underwritten by a state subsidy of $33 million and another $8.3 million raised from a surcharge on other insurance companies.

        In return, the insurance companies won't have to cover the people who cost the most.

        Jim Powell, a Harrodsburg resident who represents the Kentucky Disabilities Coalition, said the risk pool is designed only to protect the profits of insurers. Mr. Powell said he would like to see a high-risk pool provide quality coverage, but is skeptical.

        “It sounds better. It doesn't feel better,” Mr. Powell said.


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