HHS Wildly Overstates the Problem of Pre-Existing Conditions — and Ignores Its Cause

On the eve of a House vote to repeal ObamaCare, the Department of Health and Human Services has released a report claiming that if repeal succeeds, “1 in 2 non-elderly Americans could be denied coverage or charged more due to a pre-existing condition.”  A few problems with that claim:

  • An HHS survey found that in 2001, only 1 percent of Americans had ever been denied health insurance.
  • Economists Mark Pauly and Len Nichols write, “the fraction of nonelderly uninsured persons…who would be rated as actuarially uninsurable is generally estimated to be very small, less than 1 percent of the population.”
  • RAND health economist Susan Marquis and her colleagues find that in markets that do not impose ObamaCare-style government price controls on health insurance, such as California’s individual market, ‘‘a large number of people with health problems do obtain coverage…Our analysis confirms earlier studies’ findings that there is considerable risk pooling in the individual market and that high risks are not charged premiums that fully reflect their higher risk.’’
  • It is true that insurers charge higher premiums to many people with pre-existing conditions – and it is crucial that they have the freedom to do so.  Risk-based premiums create virtuous incentives for people to buy insurance while they are healthy and to be cost-conscious consumers.  They also encourage insurers to develop innovative products that protect against the risk of higher premiums.  The real problem here is that the government has created an employment-based health insurance system that denies consumers the protections that unregulated markets already provide, as well as additional protections that insurers would develop absent this government intervention.
  • ObamaCare’s health-insurance price controls will encourage insurers to deny care to the very sick people those price controls are intended to help.
  • The Obama administration projected that 375,000 people would sign up for ObamaCare’s “Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plans” by the end of last year. But only 8,000 people enrolled in such plans by December 2010, suggesting the demand isn’t nearly as great as the administration claimed.