WASHINGTON — The drive by Republicans to overturn the landmark health-reform legislation enacted last year threatens the health of as many as 129 million Americans with pre-existing conditions, the Obama administration’s top health official warned Tuesday.
In a starkly worded retort to the GOP’s campaign to overturn the Affordable Care Act, Health and Human Services secretary Kathleen Sebelius said repealing the law would put health coverage at risk for a huge segment of the U.S. population. Without the protections afforded by the health-reform law, she warned, as many as 1-in-2 nonelderly Americans could be denied coverage or charged more due to a pre-existing condition when the law takes full effect in 2014.
“The Affordable Care Act is stopping insurance companies from discriminating against Americans with pre-existing conditions and is giving us all more freedom and control over our healthcare decisions,” said Sebelius. “The new law is already helping to free Americans from the fear that an insurer will drop, limit or cap their coverage when they need it most. And Americans living with pre-existing conditions are being freed from discrimination in order to get the health coverage they need.”
The HHS secretary backed her assertion with a new analysis from the federal health agency. That study, she said, shows that “without the Affordable Care Act, up to 129 million nonelderly Americans who have some type of pre-existing health condition, [such as] heart disease, high blood pressure, arthritis or cancer, would be at risk of losing health insurance when they need it most, or be denied coverage altogether.”
Up to 1-in-5 Americans under the age of 65 years with a pre-existing condition — 25 million individuals — are uninsured, according to HHS. “Prior to the Affordable Care Act, in the vast majority of states, insurance companies in the individual market could deny coverage, charge higher premiums and/or limit benefits based on pre-existing conditions,” the agency said. “Surveys have found that 36% of Americans who tried to purchase health insurance directly from an insurance company in the individual insurance market encountered challenges purchasing health insurance for these reasons.”
Health reform already has addressed some coverage gaps, said the agency.
“Insurers can no longer limit lifetime coverage to a fixed dollar amount or take away coverage because of a mistake on an application,” HHS reported Tuesday. “Young adults have the option of staying on their parents’ coverage up to the age of 26 if they lack access to job-based insurance of their own, and insurers cannot deny coverage to children because of a pre-existing condition.”
In addition, according to an HHS representative, “Many uninsured Americans with pre-existing conditions have already enrolled in the temporary high-risk pool program called the pre-existing condition insurance plan [PCIP], which provides private insurance to those locked out of the insurance market because of a pre-existing condition.” The agency describes the PCIP program as “a bridge until 2014, when insurance companies can no longer deny or limit coverage or charge higher premiums because of a pre-existing condition.”
Release of the new report comes as the White House wages an increasingly urgent campaign to head off a Republican effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act. The House voted on the repeal Wednesday, but the GOP effort to set aside the legislation is widely expected to stall in the Senate, which is still controlled by a Democratic majority. Senate GOP leaders are looking to the elections of 2012 in hopes that control will pass to Republicans, potentially clearing the way for a repeal vote in the Senate.