High-Risk-Pool Time Bomb Looms While Baucus Wins Medicare for His Chosen Few

The media are finally waking up to the fact that the temporary high-risk pools created by the new health-care law were completely unfunded. Only $5 billion was set aside for the program, which is probably less than a third of what would be required to keep the program funded until 2014. This should not be news to Congress or people closely following the health-care debate. Back in December 2009, the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) clearly concluded, “By 2011 and 2012 the initial $5 billion in Federal funding for this program [high risk pools] would be exhausted.” A fact FDL chose to highlight.

As little as a year ago, this would not have had to become a major problem. I would have expected Congress in 2011-2012 to provide the needed additional funds for the high-risk pools, preventing hundreds of thousands of people from losing their health care. That is before I witnessed the recent fight to kill the tax-extender bill, which contained COBRA subsidies, emergency Medicaid funding and unemployment insurance extension. A cruel indifference to the plight of regular people and fake deficit hysteria have taken over the Senate. The added funding for the high-risk pools may suffer the same fate. This is one of the many foolish political time bombs Democrats wrote into their own health-care bill. They cared more about some CBO price tag than doing it right.

The foolishness of creating new state-based public/private hybrids for health insurance

The trouble that states and the federal government are having with setting up the high-risk pools in time demonstrates an important lesson about the absurdity of creating state-based public/private hybrids to provide health insurance, which the new law does with high-risk pools and eventual exchanges. The decision was idiotic, given that the government for decades has been running the public health-insurance program, Medicare, and providing quality health insurance cost effectively.

Instead of creating these high-risk pools, Congress could have decided to provide the people most in need of health insurance with Medicare. They would have started to receive benefits more than a month ago, and the money would have covered more people. Instead, many will wait at least until August before getting help.

We have proof that expanding Medicare could have been done much quicker. Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT) made sure to include a provision in the law to expand Medicare to the victims of asbestos contamination in Libby—in his home state. I can happily report that less than two months after the President signed the new law, people in Libby were getting their Medicare cards. Too bad Baucus doesn't use his powerful Finance chairmanship to make sure millions of other Americans in need also get help so quickly.

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