Patient’s Bill Soars as Health Law Program Falters

WASHINGTON (AP) -

Coping with advanced cancer, Bev Veals was in the hospital for chemo 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 like 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.

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.

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. Some experts warned that might not be enough to last through the end of 2013.

Veals had been uninsured for 27 months before she was able to get on the North Carolina PCIP plan early in 2011. She considers herself a strong supporter of Obama’s law.