A whole lot of preexisting conditions

A WHOLE LOT OF PREEXISTING CONDITIONS…. It was one of the most common phrases in the health care debate: “preexisting conditions.” Before Democrats’ health care reform plan became law, insurance companies routinely turned away customers for coverage based on ailments they had in the past. This discrimination left individuals and families with no insurance through no fault of their own.

The Affordable Care Act banned this discrimination, and it’s one of the law’s most popular measures. Congressional Republicans, of course, intend to gut the law and allow insurers to go back to screwing over those with preexisting conditions. The GOP insists it intends to offer protections for these Americans eventually, but they haven’t offered so much as a hint as to how they’d reach this goal.

While they’re thinking it over, here’s hoping they keep an important detail in mind: a huge chunk of the country falls into the “preexisting conditions” category.

As many as 129 million Americans under age 65 have medical problems that are red flags for health insurers, according to an analysis that marks the government’s first attempt to quantify the number of people at risk of being rejected by insurance companies or paying more for coverage.

The secretary of health and human services is scheduled to release the study on Tuesday, hours before the House plans to begin considering a Republican bill that would repeal the new law to overhaul the health-care system. The report is part of the Obama administration’s salesmanship to convince the public of the advantages of the law, which contains insurance protections for people with preexisting medical conditions.

Republicans immediately disparaged the analysis as “public relations.”

It’s not unreasonable to think a p.r. strategy had something to do with the timing of the release, but let’s note that Republicans didn’t disparage the analysis as “false.”

In other words, the GOP can complain all it wants about the politics, but when they’re done whining, there will still be 129 million Americans with preexisting conditions, all of whom run the risk of facing insurance industry discrimination.

And how do Republicans intend to help them, after taking away their protections by repealing the existing law? I’m sure they’ll get back to us eventually.

Postscript: Also keep in mind how important this is to the basis for the individual mandate. If policymakers simply passed a law prohibiting discrimination, those with preexisting conditions could get coverage, but prices would skyrocket. The key to keeping costs down is getting a large enough pool of consumers into the system, along with those with preexisting conditions, to help keep costs down.

Republicans have traditionally understood this — they are, after all, the ones who came up with the idea of an individual mandate in the first place — back before cheap hacks took over the party. I emphasize all of this because the GOP will likely respond to today’s report by insisting that Republicans support protections for those with preexisting conditions, but they can’t answer the very next question: how to do this without either a mandate or soaring costs.