From The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and The Heritage Foundation:
More Health Waivers
5:30 am December 7, 2010, by Jamie Dupree
The Obama Administration has quietly granted even more waivers to one provision of the new federal health reform law, doubling the number in just the last three weeks to a new total of 222.
One of the more recognizable business names included on the newly-expanded list of waivers issued by the feds is that of Waffle House, which received a waiver on November 23 for health coverage that covers 3,947 enrollees.
Another familiar name was that of Universal Orlando, which runs a variety of very popular resorts in the Orlando, Florida area. Universal was given a waiver for plans that cover 668 workers.
These waivers deal with limited health benefit plans, sometimes referred to as "mini-med" policies, which companies as large as McDonald's use for some its employees.
The plan have limits on how much can be paid out in coverage, limits which would be phased out under the new health reform law.
The feds though have granted waivers from that law, amid concern that certain groups would drop their health insurance programs entirely. Those waivers are good for one year, and can be considered for renewal.
A spokeswoman for Waffle House refused to explain the need for the waiver, saying "because Waffle House is a private company, we are going to decline to comment."
As for Universal Orlando, a spokesman defended the waiver in an email on Monday evening.
"The new legislation would have left our part-time workers without their medical coverage," said Tom Schroder of Universal Orlando Public Relations.
"We sought the waiver so that we could continue to provide them with the coverage they need and deserve," Schroder added.
The information on the waivers, which is buried deep on the web site of the U.S. Health & Human Services Department, shows that since it was last updated in mid-November, the number of waivers issued has gone from 111 to 222, covering organizations as diverse as the "Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Ogdensburg" to the "Pearson Candy Company."
You can find a list of all of the 222 waivers at http://is.gd/iiw3u
Several weeks ago, critics singled out a number of unions which had received government approval for exemptions from certain provisions of the law dealing with annual medical spending limit requirements.
And there are more unions who have received waivers in this latest batch, like the Bricklayers Local 1 of MD, VA and DC, the United Food and Commercial Workers Union in Mount Laurel, New Jersey, the Indiana Teamsters Health Benefits Fund, Service Employees International Union Local 1 Cleveland Welfare Fund, and more are listed.
The waivers are also going to a number of average sounding companies like Telesis Management Corporation, Trans-System Inc., Varsity Contractors Inc. and Moore's Retread & Tire of the Ark-La-Tex, Inc.
One of the central selling points for supporters of the federal health reform law was that it would prohibit health insurance companies from setting limits - yearly or lifetime - on how much in benefits could be paid out under a health insurance policy.
Last week in a Senate hearing, a McDonald's official defended such limited benefit plans, aruging that they were well tailored to the employees who purchased them.
"McDonald's works hard to make sure that its employees understand the coverage limitations as well as the benefits provided by these plans. All of the documentation provided to employees details the limited nature of the coverage," said Rick Floersch, the Vice President for Human Resources at the hamburger chain.
In his prepared testimony, Floersch said that "approximately 90% of covered employees do not reach the annual limit for these benefits."
But arguments like that did not sway Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), who criticized McDonald's and other companies for burying the nitty-gritty details of the limited health care coverage for employees in the fine print of the health care brochures.
"More than a million Americans wake up and go to work every day thinking they have health insurance. But they don't," said Rockefeller.
The waivers seem likely to draw hearings in the House next year for a different reason, as Republicans demand to know why Democrats would push so hard for health reform legislation, only to see the feds issue several hundred waivers from some of the details.