GAO: 112M people could have pre-existing conditions

Insurance companies soon could have anywhere between 36 million and 112 million new members with pre-existing conditions--or between 20 and 66 percent of the adult population-- that they must insure, according to a new Government Accountability Office (GAO) report issued Thursday.

That's because the health reform law prohibits insurers from denying coverage to people with pre-existing conditions or offering policies that don't cover those conditions.

The estimate is so large because GAO used four different studies that identified various amounts and types of conditions likely to result in restricted coverage.

The most common conditions leading insurers to refuse coverage are hypertension, mental health disorders and diabetes, reported The Hill's Healthwatch. Insurers most frequently reject people with hypertension as a pre-existing common. The GAO found that about 33.2 million adults between 19 and 64 years old, which is 18 percent of the adult population, reported hypertension in 2009. Treatment for hypertension cost individuals an average of $650 but, in some cases, cost almost $62,000.

However, the GAO report didn't calculate how many of those 36 million to 112 million people currently lack insurance. America's Health Insurance Plans (AHIP) believes the number of uninsured is probably relatively low since most people have employer-sponsored health plans, which preclude limitations on pre-existing conditions, AHIP said in a blog post.

To learn more:
- read the GAO report (.pdf)
- see The Hill's Healthwatch article
- check out the AHIP blog post