Politics

Obama administration keeps giving out Obamacare waivers, despite new Republican spotlight

Photo of Matthew Boyle
Matthew Boyle
Investigative Reporter

Although House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Rep. Fred Upton, Michigan Republican, is about to launch a congressional investigation into Obamacare waiver selection, the administration continues to approve waivers from health-care law for labor unions and others. In fact, since Upton first requested documentation from Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius in late January, the administration has issued 307 more Obamacare waivers, 47 of which for labor unions. That brings the total number of waivers to 1,040. Labor unions received 269 of those.

That means unions received about 26 percent of all waivers the administration has given out, but only about 12 percent of workers nationwide are unionized.

The waivers allow recipients to delay compliance with an Obamacare requirement that makes companies — or group policyholders like labor unions — provide more coverage for their employees or workers this year. Upton has said the administration is favoring labor unions over companies, and wants to know why Obama has allowed them a way out. Rep. Cliff Stearns, Florida Republican and the chairman of Energy and Commerce’s subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, said it’s “ironic” that the administration would exempt people from its prized legislative victory.

The waivers allow recipients to delay meeting the Obamacare stipulation that requires companies and group policyholders to increase the amount of coverage their employees get annually. The waivers are good for one year, but recipients can re-apply for them every year. That amount is set to increase every year through 2014 as HHS phases out annual coverage limits companies were previously allowed to provide for employees.

“Ironically, if you consider listening to the administration for the last two years, you’d wonder why anyone would need to be protected from this law,” Stearns said in opening remarks for a hearing he was holding on Obamacare waivers on Feb. 16. “Yet, today, we learn that over 2.5 million people have been exempted from the administration’s healthcare plan through these waivers.”

Since that hearing, Obama’s administration has issued 38 more waivers, which Stearns said are there to “protect” people from Obamacare.

“Two and a half million people need to be protected, literally, from the devastating effects of the health-care bill the administration has passed. Yes, protected,” Stearns said. “Under the very standards to determine whether a waiver will be granted, a company or insurer needs to show that, unless a waiver was granted, beneficiaries were either going to face a significant premium increase or a significant reduction in access to benefits.”

What the administration says waivers are for is to exempt certain companies or policyholders from “annual limit requirements.” These applications are “reviewed on a case by case basis by department officials who look at a series of factors including whether or not a premium increase is large or if a significant number of enrollees would lose access to their current plan because the coverage would not be offered in the absence of a waiver.”

Some industries and groups receiving Obamacare waivers are:

  • Several different local union chapters, including the Teamsters, SEIU, UFCW, Steelworkers, Communications Workers of America, Social Service Employees Union, United Federation of Teachers, public sector unions including police officers’ unions
  • Lots of local schools
  • Several specialized health service providers for issues including mental health, eye care, and x-ray and imaging companies, and rehabilitation centers
  • Small banks and financial institutions