By Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar, Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama's top health care official put health insurers on notice Monday that the new health overhaul law requires them to cover kids with medical problems, trying to dispel uncertainty over a much-publicized benefit.
It remained unclear if the sternly worded letter from Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius would settle a dispute over a widely touted achievement of the health care law that Obama signed last week.
The fine print of the law appears to have been less than completely clear on whether kids with health problems are guaranteed coverage starting this year. If there's a problem, some parents and their children may have to wait a long time: The legislation's broad ban on denying coverage to any person on account of a health condition doesn't take effect until 2014.
The sticking point is that the immediate benefit for children may not be as sweeping as Obama has claimed in extolling the legislation.
That's because the law can also be read to mean that if an insurance company accepts a particular child, it cannot write a policy for a child that excludes coverage for a given condition. For example, if the child has asthma, the insurer cannot exclude inhalers and respiratory care from coverage, as sometimes happens now.
But the company could still turn down the child altogether.
"The industry seems to be saying, 'You didn't write it the way you meant it'; the government is saying, 'Yes, we did,' " said health policy consultant Robert Laszewski, a former insurance executive. "Now we need to see what the industry does. Is the industry going to fight this? It would create some real public relations problems."