Mitt Romney confirmed on Tuesday that he would allow insurers to deny coverage to millions of Americans with pre-existing conditions if the Supreme Court strikes down Obamacare later this month. During a speech at Con-Air Industries in Orlando, Florida, the former Massachusetts governor said that Americans who have not been "continuously insured" would not be protected from discrimination if they suffer from pre-existing conditions:
Romney: So let's say someone has been continuously insured and they develop a serious condition. And let's say they lose their jobs or they change jobs or they move and go to a different place, I don't want them to be denied insurance because they have some pre-existing conditions. So we're going to have to make sure that the law that we replace Obamacare with, ensures that people who have a pre-existing condition, who have been insured in the past, are able to get insurance in the future so they don't have to worry about that condition keeping them from getting the kind of health care they deserve.
While the Affordable Care Act would prevent insurers from denying coverage to anyone with a pre-existing condition beginning in 2014, Romney's provision is far more limited — and would only protect Americans who already have coverage.
As The New Republic's Jonathan Cohn has pointed out, the federal government already forbids insurers from denying coverage to the continuously covered through the 1996 Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). But the measure has been seen as a failure because "there is no limit on what insurers can charge under HIPAA" and the law does "little to regulate the content of coverage, leaving the door open to insurers to offer bare-bones policies. In addition, HIPAA notice requirements are weak, making it hard for people to know about this protection."
Romney could offer to bolster the existing law, but given his general laissez-faire approach to health care and opposition to "government interference" in the private sector, it's unlikely that he would want to impose new regulations on insurers. Without a mandate for everyone to purchase coverage, the protection would also attract sicker people who need care and increase premiums for all enrollees. In other words, it's a poor solution that will leave millions still searching for coverage.