The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) should throw the book at itself for the approach it’s taken to shutting down the Pre-existing Condition Insurance Plan (PCIP) program.
CMS announced Feb. 15, during a little-noticed conference call, that it was suspending new enrollment in the state PCIP programs it administers immediately, and that states would be winding down their own PCIP programs soon.
As in, very soon.
The Associated Press reported that Wisconsin will stop taking applications for its program March 2.
On the one hand: I’m sure that the people at PCIP are really, really nice, hard-working people who have many volumes of actuarial data to explain why they had to kill the program immediately, or face disaster.
But, on the other hand: Looking at this from the perspective of a naive layperson who might be hard to insure someday, I think it’s cruel of the government to simply shut down a program aimed sick people who just want health insurance overnight without giving potential applicants fair warning or providing a source of alternative coverage.
If a commercial insurer did something like that, analysts from the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, Families USA, the Commonwealth Fund and Consumers Union would crush it under a blizzard of ice cold white papers. Congress would hold hearings. President Obama might make a short but withering remark.
Well, Mr. President: Where’s the withering remark?
The drafters of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) created the PCIP program in an effort to provide coverage for people with cancer, heart disease and other health problems that make getting conventional, medically underwritten coverage impossible.
The enrollees are supposed to pay what ordinary healthy individuals in their states pay for comparable coverage. The premiums may be $500 or more per month. PPACA provided subsidies to fill the gap between what the enrollees pay and how much enrollees spend on care with subsidies.
The PCIP program never worked very well, in part because of well-intentioned but clumsy provisions included in an effort to keep the plan from crowding out private insurance.
One provision, for example, requires PCIP applicants to have been completely uninsured for six months.
The PCIP program managers did a notoriously poor job of relating to health insurance agents and brokers, even when the producers were eager to do business with them.
Because of those weaknesses, enrollment has been much lower than the PPACA drafters expected, and the per-enrollee claims have been much higher than expected.
It seems reasonable to think that the PCIP program might also have suffered from Republicans’ cynical, scorched-earth policy of refusing to cooperate with the Democrats enough even to help pass the kind of small, not especially controversial technical fix that might have made PPACA a more viable program.