A Senate committee voted unanimously Wednesday to reauthorize federal support for state high-risk health insurance pools.[@@]

The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pension Committee voted 21-0 to send a substitute version of S. 2283 to the Senate floor.

The current version of the bill authorizes $15 million in seed funding for fiscal years 2004 and 2005 for states starting new risk pools.

The current version also authorizes $75 million in funding for fiscal years 2005 through 2009 to help existing pools improve benefits and cope with operating losses. The old authorization level was $40 million.

The government would distribute the operating loss grants by giving eligible states equal shares of 50% of the funding, allocating 25% based on each eligible state’s risk pool enrollment and allocating 25% based on the proportion of uninsured individuals living in each eligible state, according to a summary of the current version of S. 2283.

S. 2283 was introduced by Sens. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., and Max Baucus, D-Mont.

Congress included the federal risk pool grant program in the Trade Adjustment Assistance Reform Act of 2002.

If Congress fails to reauthorize the risk pool program, start-up funding for high-risk pools will expire Sept. 30, according to the Coalition for Affordable Health Coverage, Washington.

Today, 33 states have risk pools, and the pools provide health coverage for 172,845 hard-to-insure Americans.

“State high-risk pools make health care more affordable to everyone,” Laura Clay Trueman, CAHC’s executive director, says in a statement about the risk pool program. “First, they help the most vulnerable in our society — the small percentage of the population who are both uninsured and have a high-risk health condition like cancer or diabetes. Second, high-risk pools help stabilize the individual and small group insurance market by taking some of the strain of those high risk cases out of the mix.”