The U.S. House agreed Wednesday by a voice vote to pass a bill that could spur the creation of new state health insurance pools for high-risk residents.[@@]

The bill, H.R. 3204, would increase funding for all state risk pools and provide startup funds for new pools. The bill was introduced by Rep. John Shadegg, R-Ariz.

The Senate passed a similar bill, S. 288, in February.

Lawmakers who spoke in favor of the bill on the House floor Wednesday estimated that 31 to 33 states now have risk pools for residents with serious health problems who are unable to qualify for coverage from ordinary health insurers.

H.R. 3204 would provide:

- $1 million in administrative funds for the establishment of new risk pools in states without risk pools.

- $15 million in seed grant money for each new risk pool.

- $50 million per year from fiscal year 2005 through fiscal year 2009 to offset each risk pool’s operational losses.

Another provision of H.R. 3204 would require states with pools that charge high rates for coverage to use at least 50% of the federal grants to reduce their risk pool premiums.

Rep. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, a bill supporter, complained on the House floor that too many state risk pool programs used funds authorized by a 2002 risk pool bill to replace assessments from private health insurers.

When a state risk pool replaces private insurers’ money with federal money, that leaves risk pool members no better off, Brown said, according to a version of his remarks printed in the Congressional Record.

Brown also argued that the ultimate goal should be to expand access to conventional health coverage and eliminate the need for risk pools.

“The best way to earn profits in the health insurance industry, of course, is to avoid insuring people who may actually use the coverage,” Brown said. “Health insurers use every trick in the book to do that. Private health insurance used to be a community; now it is almost a country club.”

Links to the text of H.R. 3204 and other information about the bill are on the Web at http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/bdquery/z?d109:h.r.03204: