Enrollment in the recently created insurance program for people with pre-existing conditions is up nationally, but in Connecticut, only 51 people were participating by the end of March, according to new federal figures.

And the 18,313 people participating nationally is still far below the 200,000 the Congressional Budget Office estimated would be enrolled by 2013, reports Phil Galewitz of Kaiser Health News.

The insurance program was created by the federal health reform law and is intended to help people with pre-existing conditions get coverage before 2014, when insurance companies will not be allowed to deny them coverage or charge higher rates.

Galewitz cites several reasons enrollment has lagged behind expectations, including high premium costs in the plans and a lack of consumer awareness that they exist.

In Connecticut, officials have cited another barrier: To join the plan, a person must have gone without health insurance for the past six months. The state already has a program for people with pre-existing conditions to get insurance, and people in that program could get lower rates through the state’s Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Program, which started last summer. But to do so, they would have to go without insurance for six months–not an appealing option for people with medical conditions.

State officials have said people with pre-existing conditions can also enroll in the Charter Oak Health Plan, which, for many people, costs less than the other plans would. It requires enrollees to have gone six months without insurance, but allows exceptions, including loss of employment, loss of COBRA and financial hardships.

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Arielle Levin Becker covered health care for The Connecticut Mirror. She previously worked for The Hartford Courant, most recently as its health reporter, and has also covered small towns, courts and education in Connecticut and New Jersey. She was a finalist in 2009 for the prestigious Livingston Award for Young Journalists, a recipient of a Knight Science Journalism Fellowship and the third-place winner in 2013 for an in-depth piece on caregivers from the National Association of Health Journalists. She is a 2004 graduate of Yale University.

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