GOP chairman to introduce pre-existing conditions bill

GOP chairman to introduce pre-existing conditions bill
© Greg Nash

The Republican chairman of a key healthcare committee will introduce a bill next week aimed at protecting people with pre-existing conditions in the event that ObamaCare is repealed.

“We want to make sure that people with pre-existing conditions continue to get covered,” House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.) said on CNN Thursday. “In fact, I’ll introduce a bill next week that will provide and reaffirm that commitment from Republicans.”

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The bill is a sign that some Republicans are trying to protect one of the most popular aspects of ObamaCare, even as they move forward with plans to repeal the law. How to deal with the pre-existing condition protections while repealing ObamaCare is a thorny issue for the GOP.

A Democratic aide familiar with a version of the bill said that the measure would provide for an enrollment period during which people with pre-existing conditions could get coverage. However, the aide said under the current language, insurers could charge a client any price if they have had a period of no coverage.

That kind of protection for people who maintain “continuous coverage” is a common feature of Republican plans and provides an alternative incentive to get insurance without ObamaCare’s mandate. But ObamaCare also protects people with pre-existing conditions who are uninsured and signing up for the first time or after a lapse.

However, an aide for Republicans on the committee disputed the idea that the bill provided "continuous coverage" protections and said the measure provided full protections for people with pre-existing conditions, similar to a 2014 bill from Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Colo.) 

The Democratic aide said that the bill is incomplete and more details need to be filled in.

The measure will be considered at a hearing on Thursday, along with other ObamaCare-related bills. The other bills make relatively small changes to ObamaCare, such as changing the ratio to allow insurers to charge older people more for coverage and younger people less.

The Energy and Commerce Committee is one of the first this year to consider concrete legislation, even if some of it is narrow, related to the path forward on ObamaCare repeal and replacement.

This story was updated at 7:59 p.m.