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Wednesday, May 12, 2010

57.2 million people

Erin Kelly

Staff Writer

Before health reform, insurance companies generally could deny Americans in the individual market coverage if they had a history of health problems. Heart disease? Denied. Breast cancer? Denied. Diabetes? Denied. For decades, many insurance companies have been allowed to treat those with pre-existing conditions unfairly. But because Congress and the American people became so fed up with this blatant discrimination, we’ll finally see an end to these shameful practices.

According to a new study by Families USA, 57.2 million non-elderly Americans have a pre-existing condition that could result in denial of coverage in today’s individual market. Those who are lucky enough to be able to purchase coverage may find that their premiums are too expensive or that the very condition they need insurance for will simply not be covered.

Nearly one in every five non-elderly adults is at risk of being denied coverage. And while older Americans are more likely to have—and be denied coverage due to—pre-existing conditions, nearly one in six young adults has a condition that could lead to a denial of coverage too.

Because of health reform, however, insurance companies will soon no longer be allowed to deny any American coverage because they’ve been sick. No hard-working American will see their premiums double just because they have been diagnosed with breast cancer, and no one can be told “Yes, we can insure you, but we won’t cover your diabetes.”

A practice like denying people coverage because they have a pre-existing condition has contributed to making health care unaffordable for so many Americans—and has helped drive up our nation’s health care costs. When people are denied affordable coverage to help with chronic problems like heart disease or diabetes, their conditions worsen as they go without medical care. Usually, they get so sick that they end up in the emergency room, and the uncompensated costs associated with their care are shifted onto those who have insurance.

While those in the individual market are the primary beneficiaries, this provision acts as a safety net for all Americans. Even if you’re part of a group plan right now, you could end up looking for coverage in the individual market if you lose your job, or your employer decides to drop coverage.

With the passage of health reform, all Americans will have access to quality, affordable health care. This means that—among many other benefits—no one can be denied access to insurance because they have had the misfortune of being sick, and no one can be priced out of purchasing coverage because an insurance company chooses to put their profits over the health of their customers.

Health reform means a healthier society where insurance companies are finally required to play by our rules.