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Health law crucial despite insurers’ vow, HHS says

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Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. (Associated Press)

The Obama administration says the president’s health care law is crucial to ensuring health coverage for young adults — even though major health insurers have announced they will still cover them even if the Supreme Court throws the law out next week.

Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius has often touted allowing parents’ insurance to cover their children up to age 26 as a key selling point of the Affordable Care Act, announcing Tuesday that 3.1 million have obtained coverage now that the law requires insurers to cover young adults on their parents’ plans.

But the new benefits for young adults are likely to remain in place even if the court rules the entire law unconstitutional in a highly anticipated decision expected before the end of the month.

Humana, Aetna and UnitedHealth Group said last week that they intend to extend the coverage no matter what happens, saying that it provides stability for their customers.

The administration brushed off suggestions that the insurers’ decision would undermine the health care law, saying that the only way to guarantee the benefits stay in place is for the government to mandate them.

“The additional 3.1 million young adults with coverage now have valuable coverage with key protections, and only a law can guarantee those protections,” said Richard Kronick, deputy assistant secretary for health policy.

Before Congress passed the 2010 law, young adults were the likeliest age group not to have health insurance. But now nearly three-fourths of adults ages 19-25 have insurance, up from 64 percent before the coverage requirements took effect.

The administration announced in December that 2.5 million young uninsured Americans enrolled within the first nine months. The latest report shows that an additional 600,000 adults obtained coverage through the end of last year.

“To have that kind of response in such a short period of time is really unprecedented,” Mr. Kronick said. “This is extremely clear — that there’s been an overwhelming response from young adults to this.”

But House Republicans said the higher enrollment numbers tell a different story, blaming Mr. Obama for a tough job market making it difficult for young Americans to find their own jobs.

“What the administration is unlikely to reveal is the reason so many young adults are finding it necessary to stay on their parents’ plans in the first place — the failed economic policies of the Obama administration,” the House Ways and Means Committee’s Republican staffers fired off in an email.

Motivating healthy, younger Americans to join insurance pools is crucial to the law’s goal of tamping down health care costs. Younger people’s lesser need for health care makes health insurance a less-attractive product to them, a fact that economists have long cited to explain young people’s lower insurance rates.

But far fewer are expected to enroll if the Supreme Court throws out the individual mandate to buy health coverage, potentially sending premiums skyrocketing as sicker Americans enter the market.

House GOP leaders have vowed to repeal whatever parts of the health care law is left standing after the court rules. House Speaker John A. Boehner said Tuesday morning the plan is to gradually replace it with Republican ideas of how to make coverage more affordable.

“Then what we’ll do is move in a step-by-step approach to common-sense reforms that will lower the cost of health insurance and ensure that the American people can go to the doctor of their choice,” he said.

About the Author
Paige Winfield Cunningham
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