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TDI Postpones Closure of High-Risk Health Insurance Pool

Amid continuing problems with the online federal health insurance marketplace, Texas Insurance Commissioner Julia Rathgeber on Friday postponed the shuttering of the state's high-risk health insurance pool.

A patient at The People's Community Clinic pays her bill as the cashier’s desk.  The Community Health Assistance Program, a program that helps Texans get access to insurance, will run out of federal grant money in a few weeks.

As technical problems persist with the online federal health insurance marketplace created under the Affordable Care Act, Texas Insurance Commissioner Julia Rathgeber decided Friday to postpone shuttering the state’s high-risk health insurance pool until March 31. 

“Given the difficulties with enrollment in and confusion surrounding the rollout of the federal health exchange,” Rathgeber said in a statement, “there was a growing concern that pool enrollees will not be able to replace their health insurance coverage by January 1, 2014.”

The high-risk pool provides health coverage to 23,000 Texans who have struggled to find other coverage because they have pre-existing conditions. Lawmakers passed legislation during the 2013 session to shutter the high-risk pool at the end of the year, because they expected enrollees to find new coverage under the federal Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, which prohibits insurance companies from denying coverage for pre-existing conditions, beginning in 2014. The legislation included a provision that allows the insurance commissioner to postpone the closure. Rathgeber signed an order Friday extending existing coverage via the high-risk pool through March 31, the end of the six-month open enrollment period on the federal marketplace.

In an email to the Tribune, Steve Browning, executive director of the high-risk pool, said, "The Commissioner's announcement today will be welcome news for our policyholders who need more time to compare plans and select replacement coverage that best suits their needs."

The Affordable Care Act requires most Texans to carry health insurance by March 31, but technical difficulties with the federal website,, have obstructed many people from applying for tax subsidies and purchasing a health plan on the federal health insurance marketplace set up under the new law. Fewer than 3,000 Texans successfully found coverage on the marketplace during the first month of the six-month open enrollment period, which began Oct. 1, according to figures released by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Rathgeber said the technical problems with the website “could result in a break in coverage and possibly loss of treatment for individuals with chronic conditions as well as significant out-of-pocket expenses to pay for the needed treatment directly.”

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst sent a letter to the commissioner on Monday asking her to postpone closure of the high-risk pool. 

“It is clear that the Obama Administration’s attempts to implement the deeply flawed Affordable Care Act are an abject failure,” Dewhurst said in the letter. “Far too many people with significant health care needs have been left unable to make rational decisions about their options due to the confusing, incomplete information being provided by the Obama Administration.” 

This story was produced in partnership with Kaiser Health News, an editorially independent program of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan health policy research and communication organization not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.

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