N.C. Insurance Pool for Chronically Ill Gets Initial House Approval

May 4, 2007

North Carolina would create a special health insurance pool for thousands of chronically ill people who are uninsured or can’t afford coverage in a bill tentatively approved by the House this week.

The measure would create a pool to allow people with high-risk health conditions – such as multiple sclerosis or hemophilia – to get health insurance at rates no greater than 175 percent of standard insurance rates.

The pool’s expenses would be paid for through premiums as well as a fee on insurers of up to $2 phased in through 2013 per each traditional customer. A federal grant would get the program started and pay for operating costs.

The program, which has the support of insurance and hospital groups, should help a small but needy portion of the 1.4 million people in North Carolina who are uninsured, said Rep. Verla Insko, D-Orange, one of the bill’s sponsors. If it becomes the law, the pool’s 12-member board would begin enrolling members by January 2009.

The pool is “a first necessary step toward looking at the larger problem,” bill sponsor Rep. Hugh Holliman, D-Davidson, said before the House voted 102-12 in favor of the bill.

The board would be appointed by legislative leaders and the governor. The state insurance commissioner also would be a nonvoting member.

Most of the debate centered on an amendment by Rep. Paul Stam, R-Wake, that would have eliminated the assessments in favor of a state appropriation to help pay for insurance expenses.

Stam argued the assessment is essentially a tax because insurers probably will pass the cost along to its customers, reaching as much a $96 a year for a family of four by 2013. Large companies whose patients are self-insured may be exempt, he said.

Insko disagreed, saying plan expenses are projected so low that the assessments on some 4.2 million insured people would never reach the $2 maximum.

The amendment failed by a vote of 50-63.

The House passed a similar bill last year, but Senate leaders declined to take it up in the session’s final days.

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