Politics & Government

State health plan waiting list grows

The waiting list for the taxpayer-subsidized Basic Health Plan shot up by 3,000 people in the past two weeks, an unprecedented increase that state officials attribute to the bad economy.

Unfortunately for insurance seekers, lawmakers have crafted budgets that cut the number of slots in the plan by more than one-third.

As of Monday, 17,800 eligible people were waiting for coverage in the plan, about 3,000 more than on April 6, according to the Health Care Authority.

“It’s really a sign of the times,” said agency spokesman Dave Wasser. The ailing economy likely is driving people to seek health coverage from the plan and creating record numbers of applications, he said.

The plan was designed for people who have a job but are not offered health insurance. It charges a sliding scale of fees based on a person’s income, which is limited to twice the federal poverty level, or $22,800 for an individual.

Facing budget cuts in December, the Health Care Authority planned to drop enrollment by 7,700, to less than 100,000 total, by the end of this month. But people in the plan are not dropping out, and enrollment still was 102,205 as of last week.

The recession since has prompted legislators to draft two-year state budgets that would trim as many as 45,000 more slots in the Basic Health Plan to save $250 million. Lawmakers in the House also have proposed a bill allowing the state to push people out of the plan.

“We have the ability to disenroll if they are not honest about their income. … You can also get kicked off the program for not paying your bills. But we are seeing people pay their bills,” Wasser said. “We are not seeing the disenrollment we have in the past.”

Some Democrats in the House are backing a sales tax increase of 3 cents for every $10 in goods, which they expect to raise enough money to restore the cuts to the Basic Health Plan. Even the added funding, however, would not make room for the growing list of eligible applicants.