You’d have to be pretty cold-hearted to think somebody should go without insurance just because she has a kid with asthma, was born with diabetes, or survived a bout of breast cancer--just three of the conditions that today would render an individual “un-insurable” in the eyes of the insurance industry.

To fix this problem, President Obama and the Democrats would prohibit insurers from denying coverage, or even charging higher rates, to people with pre-existing medical conditions. It’s one of the most stubbornly popular elements of their reform plan, one Republicans have found virtually impossible to attack, at least directly. It’s also given the Democrats a great talking point. Whenever Republicans say the country would be better off without reform, Democrats respond by asking what the Republican answer to pre-existing conditions is.

Lately, though, Republicans have been insisting they have an answer after all: “high-risk pools.” The idea, as the name suggests, is to separate the people with serious medical conditions from the rest of the population and give them a special insurance plan of their own. The House Republican plan sponsored by Minority Leader John Boehner calls for creating high-risk plans as part of a program that will "guarantee access" to care; House Minority Whip Eric Cantor was talking up the idea Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press."

Republicans boast that creating these pools will reduce premiums for many Americans. Remember, a typical insurance arrangement includes both healthy and unhealthy beneficiaries: Premiums from the healthy ones end up subsidizing the very high medical expenses of the unhealthy ones. If you remove the unhealthy people from that arrangement and stick them in the high risk-pools, then everybody else’s premiums suddenly get a lot cheaper.

But then what happens to the people in the high-risk pools?

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