GOP Blasts Hypocritical Union Waivers in Obamacare

Tuesday, 18 Jan 2011 07:48 PM

By David A. Patten and Ashley Martella

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The Obama administration has granted over 220 healthcare-reform waivers to unions, corporations, and nonprofits in order to stave off massive policy cancellations and rate hikes affecting 1.5 million workers, according to documents posted online by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

Republicans charge the scores of waivers reflects fatal flaws in the legislation.

“I think it tells you everything you need to know about this law,” Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., told Newsmax in an exclusive interview. “The very fact that they had to immediately grant these waivers so that these people wouldn’t lose their health insurance tells you that if they should be exempt from the law, the rest of us should be exempt from the law too.”

In an exclusive interview, constitutional scholar and patient advocate Betsy McCaughey tells Newsmax.TV: “The key issue is that under our system of government, the law is supposed to apply equally to everyone. But unfortunately, the Obama administration is moving in the totalitarian direction: It’s who you know, rather than whether you are duty-bound to obey the law.

Story continues below.


“So some companies get waivers, other companies don’t,” McCaughey tells Newsmax. “There’s no rhyme or reason or way to describe why some deserve it, and some don’t. And that is really the end of the rule of law in our system of government.”

During the healthcare debate, President Obama promised that under his proposals people could keep their current insurance coverage. But in September, McDonald’s Corp. announced that it might have to drop coverage for 30,000 workers due to onerous ObamaCare provisions.
Just days later, however, HHS announced it had granted the company a one-year waiver from implementing the reforms.

Edmund Haislmaier, a senior research fellow in health policy studies for the Heritage Foundation, says the administration issued the waiver to avoid the pre-election political nightmare of “30,000 workers at a business that everyone already knows, because there’s one in every town, suddenly losing their coverage.”

Scores of other organizations followed McDonald’s lead. As of October, about 30 firms had received waivers. But the latest HHS tally shows that 222 unions, corporations, and other entities now have received them. And 103 of those exemptions came after the November midterm elections.

The complete list of waivers granted can be found here.

Several nationwide restaurant-industry firms, including McDonald’s, have received the waivers. The large restaurant chains often offer workers basic “mini-med” policies, which have strict limits on payouts. Those policies don’t meet certain minimum standards established in Obamacare, including the percentage of premiums that must be spent on benefits.

The HHS waivers give organizations a renewable, one-year forbearance from the provisions of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Whether the waivers would continue beyond one year would be up to HHS officials.

At least 44 of the waivers were granted to unions that contributed heavily to Democrats and the Obama campaign, including the Service Employees International Union. But major corporations such as McDonald’s, Darden Restaurants, and over a dozen health-insurance companies, are included as well.

According to HHS records, the smallest corporate waiver was granted to The Wilks Group, Inc., which does business as Ashley Furniture Homestore. Its policy covered only eight employees.

The largest corporate waiver went to CIGNA, which insures some 265,000 workers.

Overall, the largest single waiver was granted to the United Federal of Teachers Welfare Fund, which covers teachers in New York. The waiver shielded some 351,000 of its members from the premium hikes that many experts say Obamacare will bring.

McCaughey, a former New York lieutenant governor who has been an ardent opponent of the president’s healthcare reforms, says that granting the waivers to some companies but not to others may be unconstitutional.
Haislmaier echoes her concerns.

“It’s entirely arbitrary and discretionary,” he tells Newsmax. “This is what we mean by the rule of law. The rule of law says that law is there, accessible to everybody, and it is clear that everyone is treated equally. This is not the rule of law. This is arbitrary government.”

Haislmaier also sharply criticized the administration’s apparent failure to foresee the unintended consequences of how the legislation would affect some 1.5 million policyholders.

“If you’re going to put something in that’s going to have the effect of abolishing mini-med plans,” he told Newsmax, “and you didn’t realize that you were doing that, then you were incompetent.”

Haislmaier and Rep. Rogers warn that giving some companies waivers to keep their premiums down thwarts the stated objective of spreading health costs across the entire population.

Remaining policy holders, they say, are more likely to see the costs of their premiums go up. And McCaughey says premium costs are already rising sharply.

“Certainly, it has forced up premiums,” she says. “Look, there’s no tooth fairy. When the law requires insurance companies to cover more, or in this case to eliminate lifetime caps on what they’ll pay out when you’re sick, or annual caps on what they’ll pay out when you’re sick, you have to pay more.

“If insurance companies eliminated the cap on what they’d pay out under your homeowner’s policy, or your auto policy, you’d have to pay more for those policies too. The more you get, the more you pay,” she says.

The health care reform bill passed by the 111th Congress gives the secretary of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius, broad latitude in setting rules to administer the program.

HHS has issued two letters of regulatory guidance on waivers. Its policy requires organizations to demonstrate “why compliance with the interim final regulations would result in a significant decrease n access to benefits for those currently covered by such plans or policies, or significant increase in premiums paid by those covered by such plans or policies, along with any supporting documentation.”

Haislmaier is urging Congress to insist that HHS provide a clear-cut definition of what circumstances qualify for a waiver.

“This forces HHS to do something they’ve tried to avoid,” he said. “They’re trying to avoid being clear about who gets hurt by this bill.”

According to Rogers, HHS is expected to issue more than 30,000 pages of regulations in coming months in order to administer the reforms. He predicts this will create “an impossible compliance task” for families as well as employers.The GOP-dominated House of Representatives is expected to vote Wednesday to repeal the president’s healthcare reforms. The legislation is not expected to make it to the floor of the Senate, however.

The GOP-dominated House of Representatives is expected to vote Wednesday to repeal the president’s healthcare reforms. The legislation is not expected to make it to the floor of the Senate, however.
 




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