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State launches health coverage for high risk patients

January 1st is the first day of health coverage in a new state-funded insurance program for people with serious or chronic illnesses like diabetes or cancer. Often these so-called "high-risk" patients face very high premiums or are flatly rejected by insurance companies. That's because insurance companies make money on healthy people and lose it on people who are sick. By contrast, the North Carolina Health Insurance Risk Pool wants only high risk patients, says executive director Michael Keough. "In the insurance business you'd be out of your mind to set up your insurance company of this sort," says Keough. "But we're trying to provide an option for people who are facing astoundingly high insurance premiums out there - to make it affordable to manage their disease." Keough says the average monthly premium in the state's new Health Insurance Risk Pool is 550-dollars, which is less than half what such coverage typically costs. In order to keep premiums low, the state will subsidize the program with $22 million in 2009, and an increasing amount as enrollment grows. Information about enrolling is online at http://www.inclusivehealth.org/.