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Californians see long wait for health insurance pool; may lose auto insurance discounts

Almost every state provides health insurance to those who cannot otherwise get insurance, even though the policies are incredibly expensive. Called health insurance risk pools, the programs are especially beneficial if you have a pre-existing condition.

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But in California, be prepared to cool your heels. The state has an 18-month waiting list to be enrolled.

Health insurance risk pools are created by state legislatures to provide a safety net for people who have been denied insurance in the traditional marketplace because of health problems.

Each state operates its risk pool differently, although there are common features. Generally, the pools operate as nonprofit associations governed by a board of directors made up of industry, consumer, and state insurance department representatives. The boards work with insurers to collect premiums, pay claims, and administer the programs. Although the health benefits vary, most are comparable to basic private market plans except for the cost. Typically, pools can charge you between 130 and 200 percent above the standard premium charged for individual health insurance on the open market in your state.

Losing auto discounts

Californians may be losing their auto insurance discounts, even if they have great driving records and no claims on their policies, if they decide to change auto insurers when it comes time to renew their policies.

Proposed legislation would allow only those drivers who renew coverage with their current insurance companies to receive discounts. Opponents claim the bill would restrict competition and deprive thousands of California motorists a chance to qualify for lower premiums. It may make it more difficult for consumers to "shop around" for better rates, since only the larger insurers would be able to offer big discounts, which could in turn create a market monopoly.

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