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State warns of looming deadline for NJ Protect insurance plan

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Unless the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services extends its March 1 deadline, NJ Protect — New Jersey's individual health insurance plan for people with existing medical conditions — will not accept new applications for enrollment after the close of business Friday.

"We are working with AmeriHealth and Horizon, and we're hoping more news outlets will write about it and get the word out," said Marshall McKnight, spokesman for the New Jersey Department of Banking and Insurance. "We want to reach as many people as possible about the program."

To qualify, residents must prove they live in New Jersey, have an existing medical condition and have been uninsured for at least six months. After Friday, New Jerseyans will still be able to purchase insurance through the state's Individual Health Coverage Program, but those policies will have higher premiums, less prescription drug coverage and may be subject to a 12-month waiting period. The role of NJ Protect has been to fill the void during that waiting period.

Kenneth Kobylowski

Coverage will still be provided to current policyholders through the end of the year, which was the scheduled end of the program that began in August 2010. Since its inception, 2,484 residents have received coverage, and 1,423 New Jersey residents currently are enrolled in NJ Protect. The program was made possible through a contract between the New Jersey Individual Health Coverage Program Board and the Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight in the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.

Kenneth Kobylowski, commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Banking and Insurance, sent a letter to Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, requesting that enrollment be extended through the end of the year, especially in light of the fact that New Jersey has remained within its $141 million budget for the program.

"Had the Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan program been run in every state as well as it has been run in New Jersey, it would not be in danger of running out of federal funding on the national level," Kobylowski wrote. "It is my hope that this might prove to be a temporary suspension and that you will allow us to resume accepting new applications for this life-saving program through the end of 2013."

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