The Herald Bulletin

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April 24, 2013

House bill shifts funds in health care law

WASHINGTON — After dozens of attempts to overturn the new health care law, House Republicans on Wednesday took a different tack, promoting legislation that would come to the rescue of a prominent program in the new law at the expense of another vital element of the law.

The House bill, named the "Helping Sick Americans Now Act," would prop up a faltering program that helps people with pre-existing conditions get insurance, doing so by taking money away from the 2010 law's main prevention fund.

The legislation is likely to be ignored by the Democratic-led Senate and was met by a veto threat from the White House, but it does give Republicans a platform to talk about an aspect of the Affordable Care Act, or "ObamaCare," that has not gone as well as hoped.

The Pre-existing Condition Insurance Plan was a stopgap measure intended to help people who have trouble getting private insurance because of a medical condition. This would assist people who have uninsured for at least six months to get coverage at average rates. The program is slated to disappear in 2014 when the consumer protections under the Affordable Care Act take full effect.

The original goal was to reach more than 300,000, but the program's costs were higher than anticipated and in February the administration said it would stop taking new applications. It has enrolled more than 100,000 people.

The GOP bill would extend the program through the end of the year by providing up to $3.6 billion and would eliminate the requirements that applicants be uninsured for six months. The money would come from the Prevention and Public Health Fund, which Republicans refer to as a "slush fund" for Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius but which the administration says is vital to promoting disease prevention programs and publicizing the new health insurance markets that will open this fall.

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