Crist embraces Obama's high-risk health insurance pool

Gov. Charlie Crist will leave it to the Obama administration to run the federally subsidized high-risk health insurance plan that is to cover people unable to buy such insurance in the private market due to preexisting conditions such as cancer or diabetes.

In a letter late Friday to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, Crist said he agreed that states and the federal government must cooperate in expanding healthcare for Americans but said "unfortunately Florida is not in a position to authorize new financial obligations."

"We are in the process of balancing our budget on the final day of the 2010 legislative session," he wrote. "As governor of Florida, I cannot commit any state resources to participate in the federal temporary high-risk health insurance program."

"However, I understand you can . . . create a new high-risk pool at the federal level, where eligible Floridians can participate. We stand ready to assist you," he added.

Earlier this month, Sebelius sent a letter to all 50 state governors and insurance commissioners, requesting a response by April 30 indicating whether they would set up their own federally subsidized high-risk pools for people who can't buy insurance because of preexisting conditions, or leave it to HHS to run the pools.

Regardless of who runs the pools, the Obama administration has promised a $5 billion one-time subsidy to help make the insurance affordable. Each state's share would be based on population and need, not on who would run the pools, an HHS spokeswoman said Friday.

Florida's share of the $5 billion is $351 million.

"The bottom line is that all Americans who meet the eligibility criteria will have the opportunity to join a high-risk pool program," Jenny Backus, acting assistant secretary for public affairs, wrote in an HHS blog post Friday.

By the end of the day Friday, 33 state governors had replied to Sebelius, with 22 saying they want to set up their own federally subsidized health insurance pools and 11 saying they will let the federal government do it, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said.

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