Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Patient's Bill Soars as New Program Falters; Pre-Existing Condition Plan in 'Obamacare' Low on Cash; HEALTH

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Patient's Bill Soars as New Program Falters; Pre-Existing Condition Plan in 'Obamacare' Low on Cash; HEALTH

Article excerpt

WASHINGTON * Coping with advanced cancer, Bev Veals was in the hospital for chemotherapy this summer when she got a call that her health plan was shutting down. Then, the substitute insurance she was offered wanted her to pay up to $3,125, on top of premiums.

It sounds like one of those insurance horror stories President Barack Obama told to sell his health overhaul to Congress, but Veals wasn't in the clutches of a profit-driven company. Instead, she's covered by Obama's law one of about 100,000 people with serious medical issues in a financially troubled government program.

Raw political divisions over health care have clouded chances of a fix for the Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan, leaving families such as Veals and her husband, Scott, to juggle the consequences. That's not a good omen for solving other problems that could surface with "Obamacare."

"You don't advertise one thing and then give the customer another thing," said Veals, 49, who lives near Wilmington, N.C. "I finally felt for the first time going through this cancer that I had something dependable, and somebody pulled the plug."

In a statement, the federal Health and Human Services department said the program "continues to provide excellent coverage." But the department said it was unable to provide current enrollment numbers, which might reflect the impact of belt-tightening this summer that led North Carolina and 16 other states to turn their programs over to federal officials.

Known as PCIP, the program was intended as a temporary lifeline for people denied insurance because of medical problems. It's supposed to provide coverage at premiums that healthy people would typically pay.

PCIP will end Jan. 1, when Veals and other enrollees will be able to transition to new insurance marketplaces where they may be able to find lower-cost plans.

Jan. 1 is also when Obama's law will forbid insurers from turning away people in poor health.

At the same time, virtually all Americans will be required to have coverage. Many who are currently uninsured will be able to get tax credits to help pay premiums.

Part of the problem with PCIP stems from a decision by the president and Congress more than three years ago to cap funding at $5 billion. …

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