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Reconsider health repeal, officials urge Boehner

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Obama administration warned House Republicans on Wednesday that any move to repeal the sweeping healthcare overhaul passed last year would erase critical consumer protections and set the nation back on course toward skyrocketing health costs.

The House is already planning a largely symbolic vote on repeal next week, but U.S. Health Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner urged U.S. House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner to consider the benefits of the law before taking any action.

“We urge you to consider all that this law has already done ... as you evaluate any proposal that would set the Nation back on a path to higher costs and skyrocketing premiums, less competition, and fewer consumer protections against industry abuses,” they, along with Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, wrote in a letter.

The letter came just moments after Boehner took over as House speaker following Republican victories in last year’s election, in part because of campaign promises to “repeal and replace” the healthcare law passed in March.

While any chance of repeal is unlikely to pass both houses of Congress, House Republicans already plan to vote on the issue January 12 to make good on campaign pledges.

Democrats still control the Senate and would likely block such a bill. President Barack Obama, who made the law a cornerstone of his domestic policies, would likely veto it. Republicans can still try to tie up implementation resources with multiple hearings or investigations.

The bill, passed in March 2010, aims to extend health insurance coverage to 30 million Americans while also imposing new rules on health insurance companies such as Aetna Inc and WellPoint Inc.

Some more popular provisions include an end to coverage limits and allowing young adults to stay on a parents’ plan until age 26. It also requires individuals to have a health insurance policy or face fines starting in 2014, a mandate that Republicans say oversteps the government’s role.

Several House committee chairmen have pledged to hold hearings on the law, which is also being challenged in numerous lawsuits.

In a statement on Wednesday, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith said he planned to hold hearings on the constitutionality of the law but gave no specific dates.

A copy of the 15-page letter is on the HHS website at link.reuters.com/waq84r

Editing by Doina Chiacu and Sandra Maler

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