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HHS renews push to enroll people in pre-existing condition insurance plan

Amid tepid enrollment, the Department of Health and Human Services has renewed efforts to increase awareness of the Pre-existing Condition Insurance Plan (PCIP), the government's temporary insurance plan for those denied private insurance due to pre-existing conditions.

The plan has attracted roughly 12,000 people nationally since health reform was enacted early last year. While that represents an increase of 50 percent over the past three months, it's well below the 375,000 that Medicaid's chief actuary predicted last spring would be enrolled by the end of 2010.

[See also: Some states decline to run new federal high-risk poolsCalifornia gets pre-existing condition health plan off the ground]

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"This program has helped thousands of people that desperately need coverage and we are excited to see Pre-existing Condition Insurance Plan enrollment is ramping up, in much of the way enrollment in the Children's Health Insurance Program did in the 1990s, as more people learn about the new insurance options available," said Steve Larsen, director of the Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight, which operates the program.

These high-risk pools are intended to run through 2014, when provisions of the Affordable Care Act will make it illegal for private health insurers to turn away people with pre-existing conditions. The law left it to each state's discretion as to whether the state would run its own high-risk pool or allow residents to sign up for a federal plan. To date, 27 states have set up their own high-risk pool plans.

But public awareness of the plans is lacking. To counter this, HHS has launched a new website that details how the plan works in each state, eligibility requirements and how to apply for insurance.

"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 Larsen.

The HHS his working with states, consumer groups, chronic disease organizations, healthcare providers, social workers, other federal agencies and the insurance industry to promote the plan. Among the efforts are recent agreements with major private insurers including Wellpoint, Humana, the United Health Group and a number of Blue Cross/Blue Shield plans, who have agreed to distribute information about the plans when informing consumers they have been denied private insurance.

In addition, the HHS Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight is working with the Social Security Administration on an outreach campaign, putting information about the plan in the approximately 3.2 million social security disability insurance application receipts distributed each year.