That changed 18 months ago in North Carolina with the creation of Inclusive Health, the North Carolina Health Insurance Risk Pool. The organization offers insurance policies to high-risk individuals at only a slightly higher rate than to people without health issues.
Executive Director Michael Keough says the savings for the participants are significant.
"Our rates are capped, by law, at 150 percent of the market average for people who typically would run into rates two to five times higher."
Prior to enrollment, some people were paying premiums as high as $3000 a month for health insurance coverage, Keough says. Enrolling in the state program reduces premiums by 50 percent, on average.
The addition of the federal program, part of this spring's health care reform legislation, will reduce rates even further for people who have had no access to insurance. Out of the 3,900 people currently enrolled in Inclusive Health, roughly 20 percent will benefit from the federal program.
Their savings for Raleigh assisted living will be significant. Currently, a 50-year-old woman in the high-risk pool pays $561 a month. The federal program would reduce her rate to $347 each month, Keough explains.
"The rates for the federal pool are 100 percent - in other words the same - as they would be for a person in the individual market who has no pre-existing condition. So it's a real break and a significant improvement."
The government is banking on the fact that more people will enroll in the more affordable insurance program, making it easier to fund such a costly endeavor.