WASHINGTON -- On the day Republicans in the House begin their charge to the repeal the sweeping healthcare overhaul law, the Obama administration released a report Tuesday that estimates that as many as 129 million Americans under age 65 have preexisting medical conditions that could make it more difficult for them to obtain health coverage.
The analysis prepared by the Department of Health and Human Services marks an attempt to quantify how many across the country would be affected if the law, the Affordable Care Act, were repealed -- and is part of the administration's accelerating strategy to defend the legislation.
To that end, Democrats will spend the next several days highlighting those Americans who stand to lose benefits in the event the act is repealed or modified, which remains unlikely.
The report "shows why the repeal would be a huge mistake," Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said Tuesday. "Thanks to the protections in the Affordable Care Act, by 2014, those citizens will have the freedom and security that come with having quality and affordable health coverage"
The Health and Human Services Department report estimates that between 50 million and 129 non-elderly Americans have a preexisting medical condition, which would put them at risk of going uninsured if not for the law, which prohibits insurers from discriminating against policyholders on that basis. (Elderly Americans are covered by Medicare.)
"No one has been treated worse in this marketplace than Americans with preexisting medical conditions," Sebelius said.
But the report says a substantial portion of that group -- 82 million people -- currently have employer-based insurance coverage, which would remain largely unchanged even if the act were repealed. One-fifth are uninsured, the report said.
Republican members of the House remain committed to going ahead with a debate Tuesday on the effects of the act, which they say stifles job creation and puts employer-based coverage at risk. The debate was delayed a week after the Tucson shootings, which killed six and gravely wounded Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.).
Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has pledged that the debate will be a civil one, but that doesn't mean Republicans will refrain from continuing to call the law a "government takeover of healthcare" and employing other strong rhetoric.
A Quinnipiac University poll released Tuesday suggests that the GOP, which ran on repeal during last year's congressional elections, still has substantial public support for its position, despite President Obama's resurgent popularity. The poll estimates that almost half of all Americans want the law done away with, with 54% of independent voters favoring repeal.
"The Republicans pushing repeal of the health care law have more American people on their side. They may not have the votes in the Senate, but they have many on Main Street," Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute, said in a statement. "While President Obama's poll rating has improved in recent weeks, the coalition against his health care plan remains and is quite similar to the one that existed when his numbers were at their nadir."
The poll is slightly at odds with an Associated Press/GfK poll earlier in the week that suggested support for repeal was dropping and that as many Americans favored the healthcare law as opposed it.
Democrats hope to seize that uncertain ground and plan to go on an all-out effort to defend the law, the kind of aggressive campaign that some progressives would have liked to have seen last year when the debate over the legislation was raging.
In the House, the minority Democrats plan to hold a mock committee hearing Tuesday afternoon to detail personal stories of those who have already benefited from the legislation. The floor debate in the House is scheduled to begin about 2 pm EST, with a repeal vote set for Wednesday.
That vote is expected to be lopsided in the GOP's favor, but there the matter is likely to rest. The Democratic-controlled Senate has expressed no interest in taking up the issue. Republicans hope mounting public pressure will force it do so, but even if some bill repealing or modifying the act made it through Congress, President Obama would likely veto it.