Premiums for new high-risk pools established under the Affordable Care Act will decrease roughly 20 percent in January in the 23 states and the District of Columbia in which the federal government operates the pools, Karen Pollitz, head of the Health and Human Services Office of Consumer Support, said at a Health Affairs media breakfast this morning.

The pools, established under the Act’s Pre-existing Condition Insurance Program, are designed as a coverage stopgap for people with pre-existing conditions until 2014, when insurers will be barred from discriminating against these Americans.  Premiums are tied to market rates, and the rates will be recalculated as a result of the massive amount of insurance-industry data Pollitz’ office has gathered, much of which is available at the Web site.  The pools have gotten off to a markedly slow start, but “we expect we’re going to see enrollment really grow,” Pollitz said.

As head of the Office of Consumer Support within HHS’s Office of Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight (OCIIO), Pollitz has two major responsibilities: promoting transparency in private health insurance coverage, which she called the “secret sauce” to implementation of health reform, and providing direct consumer services. (The federal high-risk pools are actually run by a different division of OCIIO.) At the breakfast, Pollitz talked at length about these tasks, and Health Affairs Blog will return in more detail to her presentation in a subsequent post.