Buying pools for uninsured to start soon

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration sought Friday to show voters concrete benefits from the new health care law, taking steps to provide insurance coverage to people with pre-existing health conditions.

The law the president signed March 23 requires creation within 90 days of buying pools to target uninsured people who can't get coverage because of health conditions. Five billion dollars is being spent on the program, which will remain in place until the sweeping health law is fully implemented in 2014, when insurance companies will have to take all comers.

The program will build on buying pools that already exist in some states, including Kansas. The federal government will let states take the lead in setting up new pools or will administer them in states that don't want to participate on their own. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius wrote to states Friday asking them to report back by the end of April on how they want to proceed.

The new program will provide "immediate relief for potentially millions of Americans with pre-existing conditions, like diabetes or high blood pressure, who have been shut out of the insurance system," Sebelius told reporters on a conference call.

The administration is under pressure to turn the health care bill from a political negative into a positive ahead of the fall elections and to undercut Republican calls to repeal the law.

Administration officials believe their best defense against Republican criticism of the bill is a good offense highlighting its benefits, especially things that take effect quickly. In addition to the new buying pools, that includes tax credits for small businesses, a $250 rebate for seniors who fall into Medicare's prescription drug coverage "doughnut hole," and new requirements for insurers to cover kids with pre-existing conditions.