This morning, the Department of Health and Human Services released a new report showing that up to 129 million Americans have a pre-existing condition and would likely be denied coverage in the individual health insurance market. During an appearance this morning on MSNBC, Secretary Kathleen Sebelius admitted that most of these individuals already have coverage, but argued that they would have a hard time finding insurance if the law were repealed and they were to lose their job. “A number of people are in jobs with large employers where people can’t be underwritten because of their health condition, that’s good news. But those folks frankly can’t look at leaving that jobs, can’t start their own business, can’t have the freedom to retiring early before they have qualify for Medicare because they are terrified they will lose that insurance coverage,” Sebelius said, pointing out that insurers deny coverage to 1 out of every 7 who apply for it in the individual market.
House Rules Committee Chairman Rep. David Dreier (R-CA) dismissed these concerns while responding to the report on Fox News, but apart from questioning the timing of the release of the study, Dreier didn’t challenge the report’s conclusion or provide a clear explanation for how Republicans would help the 129 million Americans find access to affordable insurance:
DREIER: I think that if you look at policy providers they’re saying that many of those people who fall into that category are already insured and it’s very interesting, very interesting that that study has come out literally the day that we begin the debate on this issue. We all want to ensure that people with pre-existing conditions have their needs addressed and I think we can find effective ways to do just that.
Republicans have suggested that they would cover sicker Americans in high-risk insurance pools, which are already part of the existing legislation and are designed to provide insurance to the sickest Americans before the exchanges become operational in 2014. Unfortunately, the high premiums associated with covering only sick people has kept these programs out of reach for most of the eligible population.
In fact, Republicans — who have long championed the pools as a means of extending coverage to those who don’t qualify for insurance in the individual market — have criticized the programs as ineffective and underfunded. The ACA provides $5 billion to run the temporary pools for three and a half years while the Republicans have proposed spending $25 billion over 10 years to keep the pools running on a permanent basis.