Hundreds in PA seek state health coverage

As of 1 pm Wednesday, the Pennsylvania Department of Insurance had received 848 applications for government health coverage for people with pre-existing conditions, that made it impossible prohibitively expensive for them to get private insurance. The state began accepting applications online at 8:30 this morning. UPDATE: As of 3:30 946 people had filed applications online to join the plan.

The health plan, called PA Fair Care, is being offered to uninsured Pennsylvania residents (with other versions for U.S. citizens in other states, including New Jersey, which launched its program on Monday) who have pre-existing medical conditions. The temporary plan, which costs $283.20 a month plus co-payments and other fees is intended to extend high-risk coverage to those eligible until that part of federal health insurance reform takes effect in 2014.

“Full federal health reform is still three years away,” said Pennsylvania Insurance Commissioner Joel Ario. “In the meantime, we are doing everything we can for Pennsylvanians to have access to affordable, quality health care.”

Federal funds pay for the state-run plan that is being administered in Pennsylvania by Pittsburgh-based Highmark Blue Shield. The coverage includes a full range of benefits including prescription drug and mental health coverage as well as standard preventive care and doctors, hospital and laboratory services.

The New Jersey plan, dubbed New Jersey Protect, is being administered by Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield. A spokesman for that insurer said that applications (which, unlike in Pennsylvania, cannot yet be made online) have begun to trickle in.  New Jersey estimated that about 21,000 residents could ultimately be covered under the plan.

Both states require that applicants be uninsured, have proof of a U.S. citizenship or legal residency, and have a pre-existing condition that resulted in an inability to get coverage. In the initial phase, Pennsylvania will enroll 3,500 people in its fair care plan.

“Many uninsured people have been denied affordable coverage and care due to their health status,” Ario said.

Under the federal health reform law, “insurers will be prohibited from denying coverage or charging sick people more for insurance in 2014, but people need more options until we get to that point,” Ario said, adding that is where PA Fair Care will fill the gap.

Pennsylvania officials encouraged people to apply online, saying it should take only 15 minutes. Click here to go to that site.

New Jersey residents can download the application here and mail it to Horizon.

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