WASHINGTON As many as 129 million Americans under age 65 have health problems that could hurt their ability to obtain health insurance or force them to pay higher premiums, a U.S. government study said on Tuesday.
The Department of Health and Human Services released the study as the House of Representatives prepared to take up a Republican bill to repeal the healthcare overhaul that was one of President Barack Obama's biggest legislative achievements in 2010.
U.S. Health Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said the House debate on the Republican-backed proposal, which starts on Tuesday, would provide an opportunity to spell out the benefits of the legislation that would provide coverage to as many as 33 million people who lack medical insurance.
"Under the old rules, if you had any kind of medical condition, whether you were a child born with a medical disability, a cancer survivor, a pregnant woman or, in some cases, even a victim of domestic violence, insurers could freely deny you application," Sebelius told reporters in a telephone briefing on the report.
The vote by the Republican-led House that is set for Wednesday will be largely symbolic since Democrats remain in control of the Senate and are unlikely to advance the repeal effort. But the repeal vote will help Republicans fulfill a campaign pledge and meet a key demand of conservative Tea Party activists, who were crucial to their winning control of the House and picking up seats in the Senate.
Republicans dismissed the government study as a political talking point for Democrats.
"The new health care law raises taxes on the chronically ill and its high-risk pools are so badly underfunded that nearly half of the states have opted out," said Michael Steel, spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner.
"We need to repeal the law and start over with solutions that help states expand their high-risk pools and lower costs for all Americans, including those with pre-existing conditions," he said.
Sebelius said the study found that as many as 129 million non-elderly Americans have at least one medical condition that could trigger rejection or higher premiums in the individual insurance market.
About 50 million of those people have serious conditions that could qualify them for coverage under the temporary high-risk pools created by the healthcare overhaul, she said.
Many provisions of the law enacted last year have gone into effect. They include requiring insurers to cover children with pre-existing conditions, allowing young people to stay on their parents insurance until age 26 and creating temporary high-risk pools to help people with medical conditions obtain health coverage.
Other provisions such as the creation of insurance exchanges to help individuals and small business compare and purchase plans do not go into effect until 2014. A controversial requirement that people purchase health coverage is not set to take effect until 2014, providing some time for legal challenges on the provision to work their way through the courts.
(Reporting by Donna Smith; Editing by Stacey Joyce)