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Health insurers say they'll obey new rules for kids with preexisting conditions

By Associated Press
Wednesday, March 31, 2010; A03

The health insurance industry has told the Obama administration that it won't block federal efforts to fix a glitch in the new health-care law.

In a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, the industry's top lobbyist said Monday that insurers will accept new regulations to dispel uncertainty over a much-publicized guarantee that children with medical problems can get coverage starting this year.

"Health plans recognize the significant hardship that a family faces when they are unable to obtain coverage for a child with a pre-existing condition," Karen Ignagni, president of America's Health Insurance Plans, said in the letter. She said the industry will "fully comply" with the regulations, expected within weeks.

Ignagni's letter followed a sternly worded missive from Sebelius to the industry earlier in the day. The administration's top health-care official forcefully tried to put an end to questions about the law's intent and wording.

"Health insurance reform is designed to prevent any child from being denied coverage because he or she has a pre-existing condition," Sebelius wrote. ". . . Now is not the time to search for non-existent loopholes that preserve a broken system."

Sebelius specified that a child with a preexisting medical problem may not be denied access to parents' coverage under the new law. Furthermore, insurers will not be able to cover a child but exclude treatments for a particular problem.

Under the law, adults with preexisting conditions can get coverage starting in 2014. But the fine print is not completely clear on whether children with health problems are guaranteed coverage starting this year -- as Obama had repeatedly said in extolling the legislation.

The law says that, if an insurance company agrees to cover a particular child, it cannot write a policy that excludes coverage for a given condition, as sometimes happens now.

But a narrow reading of that language would mean that the company could still turn down the child altogether.

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