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Good news for Californians with preexisting medical conditions

August 3, 2011 |  1:35 pm

Doctor Image New Californians who rely on safety-net health insurance are getting an unexpected break on their rates.

The lucky recipients get their coverage through a little-known public program, started last fall, for people with preexisting medical conditions.

The federal government foots most of the bill and recently gave the state, which runs the program, permission to lower rates.

And so starting this month, the 3,500 subscribers will see their monthly insurance bills fall an average of 18%. Some will get the maximum 24% break.

And thousands more may be eligible for the lower-cost insurance offered through California’s Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan, created by the national healthcare overhaul that took effect last year.

For Kristian Magnani, an unemployed graduate student from Duarte, the rate cut will pare $70 from his monthly insurance bill, dropping it from $288 to $218. Magnani, 33, has a congenital back disorder and went without insurance for more than a year before he discovered the insurance program when it debuted in October 2010.

"I'm just trying to get by," he said. “For me, $70 a month in my pocket is huge."

The insurance plan targets individuals like Magnani who have been unable to find or afford health insurance in the individual market because of their medical conditions.

Insurers in that market can reject subscribers or charge high rates to those with even minor medical problems such as hay fever or back pain.

The new program is viewed as a temporary solution for such people until 2014, when insurers can no longer reject policyholders or charge more for those who are sick. 

"The whole purpose is to help people get out of a cycle of being uninsured," said Jeanie Esajian, a spokeswoman for the state agency that runs the program. "It keeps money in their pocket."

RELATED:

U.S. employers expand health benefits coverage under reform

Paying medical bills a steep challenge for senior citizens on Medicare

Blue Shield of California to give $167 million back to some customers

-- Duke Helfand

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