One of the reasons to have hearings on legislation is so people who comb through it can point out hidden traps, ambiguous language, unintended consequences, etc. But large parts of the Senate bill on health care that went into law were written behind closed doors. And it shows.

Throughout the discussion about the bill, various proponents said that the law would immediately prevent insurance companies from denying coverage to children based on pre-existing conditions. And it does. What, apparently, it doesn’t do is require insurance companies to cover children. At least that’s what some insurance companies are reputed to be saying. Having heard this, Obama appointee Kathleen Sebelius wrote a threatening letter to the health insurance companies’ trade association.

Interestingly, various Democratic Congressmen expressed outrage at the insurance companies for reading the law carefully and trying to figure out what they are and are not required to do. There’s no report that the Congressmen are angry at themselves for their carelessness.

Even more interesting, three of the leading Democratic Congressmen who voted for the bill, Henry Waxman, Sander Levin, and George Miller, seem to be aware that maybe the insurance companies are right. On March 24, they wrote:

Under the legislation that Congress passed and the President signed yesterday, plans that include coverage of children cannot deny coverage to a child based upon a pre-existing condition. We have been assured by the Department of Health and Human Services that any possible ambiguity in the bill can be addressed by the Secretary with regulation.

Notice the first sentence. “[P]lans that include coverage of children cannot deny coverage to a child based upon a pre-existing condition.” Duh. That’s not at issue. The issue is whether the company is required to offer coverage to children. And the second sentence admits that there may be ambiguity.

Karen Ignagni, the head of the health insurance trade association, has caved and said that the companies will go along with what Sebelius wants. But so what? She doesn’t make decisions for the individual companies. A company that wants to stick to the law as written instead of the law the Congressmen say they meant to write might well have a strong legal case.