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Overselling the health law's benefits?

From NBC's Mark Murray
As we noted earlier today, one of the immediate benefits President Obama is touting in his health-care law is that it would prohibit insurers from denying children with pre-existing conditions. "This year, tens of thousands of uninsured Americans with a preexisting condition and parents whose children have a preexisting condition will finally be able to purchase the coverage they need," Obama said yesterday.

But, according to the AP, that provision for children isn't ironclad -- this year.

Hours after President Barack Obama signed historic health care legislation, a potential problem emerged. Administration officials are now scrambling to fix a gap in highly touted benefits for children.

Obama made better coverage for children a centerpiece of his health care remake, but it turns out the letter of the law provided a less-than-complete guarantee that kids with health problems would not be shut out of coverage.

Under the new law, insurance companies still would be able to refuse new coverage to children because of a pre-existing medical problem, said Karen Lightfoot, spokeswoman for the House Energy and Commerce Committee, one of the main congressional panels that wrote the bill Obama signed into law Tuesday.

However, if a child is accepted for coverage, or is already covered, the insurer cannot exclude payment for treating a particular illness, as sometimes happens now. For example, if a child has asthma, the insurance company cannot write a policy that excludes that condition from coverage. The new safeguard will be in place later this year.

Full protection for children would not come until 2014, said Kate Cyrul, a spokeswoman for the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, another panel that authored the legislation.

*** UPDATE *** HHS has this response: "Under the Act, plans that include coverage of children cannot deny coverage to a child based upon a pre-existing condition. To ensure that there is no ambiguity on this point, the Secretary of HHS is preparing to issue regulations next month making it clear that the term 'pre-existing exclusion' applies to both a child's access to a plan and his or her benefits once he or she is in the plan for all plans newly sold in this country six months from today."