Romney Appears to Refine Position on Pre-exsiting Conditions, Defends Existing System for Uninsured

AP Photo/ Evan Vucci

Mitt Romney appears to have altered his position on the Obamacare ban on denying insurance to people with pre-existing conditions in an interview with the Columbus Dispatch editorial board.

"You have to deal with those people who are currently uninsured, and help them have the opportunity to have insurance," said Romney, according to the paper.

"But then once people have all had that opportunity to become insured, if someone chooses not to become insured, and waits for 10 or 20 years and then gets ill and then says, 'Now I want insurance,' you could hardly say to an insurance company, 'Oh, you must take this person now that they're sick,' or there'd literally be no reason to have insurance."

In the same interview with the Dispatch, he also argued that not having insurance does not in itself lead to deaths.

"We don't have a setting across this country where if you don't have insurance, we just say to you, 'Tough luck, you're going to die when you have your heart attack,'" Romney said. "Instead you go to the hospital, you get treated, you get care, and it's paid for, either by charity, the government or by the hospital. We don't have people that become ill, who die in their apartment because they don't have insurance."

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Romney's reference to a "choice" with regard to pre-existing conditions and his inclusion of giving opportunity to people "who are currently uninsured" would seem to contradict earlier statements from Romney and his own website, which suggest no ban on pre-existing conditions should be extended for people who don't currently have insurance. A full transcript of the interview has not yet been posted by the Dispatch. The Romney campaign has not responded to a request for comment.

Read more about Romney and pre-existing conditions .

There were approximately 49 million non-elderly uninsured Americans in 2010, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation report that utilized U.S. Census data. More than 70 percent of those have gone without insurance for a year or more, according to the report.

Here's what it says on Mitt Romney's website about pre-existing conditions: "Prevent discrimination against individuals with pre-existing conditions who maintain continuous coverage."

That has been taken to suggest that he favors a ban on insurance companies discriminating on the basis of pre-existing conditions, but not for people who are currently uninsured. "Continuous coverage" generally means three months, so presumably a three-month gap is allowed.

Romney has backed this assessment up, most notably in an interview during the GOP primary this spring with Jay Leno, when Romney was careful to stipulate that someone would need to have had insurance. "People who have done their best to be insured are going to be covered," said Romney.

"If they are 45 years old, and they show up and say, 'I want insurance because I have heart disease,' it's like, 'Hey, guys. We can't play the game like that,'" Romney told Jay Leno during a March appearance on the "Tonight Show." "You've got to get insurance when you are well, and then if you get ill, you are going to be covered.

"People who have been continuously insured, let's say someone's had a job for a while and been insured, then they get real sick and they happen to lose a job, or change jobs, they find, 'Gosh, I got a pre-existing condition. I can't get insured,' I'd say no, no, no. People with pre-existing conditions, as long as they have been insured before, they are going to be able to continue to have insurance," he said.

In the presidential debate last week, Romney said, "I do have a plan that deals with people with pre-existing conditions," but he did not elaborate.