The changes, according to HHS, will bring the premiums closer to the individual insurance market rates in each state. The change will not affect premiums in the six states where they are “well-aligned” with the individual insurance market premiums, according to an HHS statement.
"That means real savings for people across the country," HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said about the premium decreases, during a call with reporters.
Enrollment changes include allowing adults—starting July 1—to qualify for the program with a letter from a physician, physician assistant or nurse practitioner from the previous 12 months stating that they have had “a medical condition, disability or illness.” The change drops a requirement that applicants provide an insurance company denial letter. The programs will still require citizenship or legal residency and the lack of health insurance coverage for six months.
HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius told members of a congressional panel May 5 that the program had about 18,000 participants. When it was launched in 2010, HHS officials said they expected it to include 200,000 people at any one time.
Federal officials blamed both the cost of the premiums and a lack of publicity for minimal enrollment in the program, which is nearly a year old and administered by HHS and the Office of Personnel and Management.
"Cost is always a factor for people buying health insurance coverage," John Berry, director of the OPM, said during the same call with reporters.
Berry said there is no cost estimate for the changes but that the federal government will pay for the lowered premiums using the program's original $5 billion appropriation.