Obamacare waivers get axe in last-minute Friday night news dump

Matthew Boyle Investigative Reporter
Font Size:

In what’s appearing to be a last-minute move to avoid scrutiny, President Barack Obama’s administration announced late Friday that it is doing away with Obamacare waivers.

Obama administration official Steve Larsen said no new applications, or waiver renewal applications, will be accepted after Sept. 22 this year. Larsen said politics was “absolutely not” a part of the decision to do away with the controversial program, but it certainly looks that way with the decision to dump the news on Friday. It’s a common public relations practice to roll news out late on Fridays when trying to shift attention away from controversial topics.

The administration defended the Obamacare waivers program until now, saying it was necessary to avoid disrupting negative economic effects on employers who couldn’t afford certain provisions in the legislation. The waivers exempt recipients from having to annually increase the amount of coverage they provide their employees with, a major part of the Obama administration’s healthcare overhaul.

Each year through 2014, Obamacare requires employers and other health plan providers to increase the minimum annual dollar amount limits they provide their employees with. This year the amount they had to increase it to was $750,000 per person. The annual limit requirement waivers exempt recipients from having to meet that requirement, and if they would have gotten renewed waivers each thereafter, future requirements. But, the administration’s doing away with the program kills those chances.

The Friday night news dump comes after a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report earlier this week still left several unanswered questions on how the administration was handling the Obamacare waiver process. That GAO report found that more than 3 million Americans are benefiting from the more than 1,400 Obamacare waivers granted so far. But, it also found that there’s still more than 150,000 Americans who are hurting after the administration denied their organizations’ applications for waivers.

The news dump also comes on the heels of The Daily Caller’s report that the Obamacare waivers were never in the original law, and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) granted itself the power through administrative rules. Several of the organizations and unions that lobbied HHS to grant itself the power to issue waivers from Obamacare’s annual limit requirements either got waivers themselves or have political connections to companies or groups that did. That includes the owner of the company that applied for the 38 waivers that went to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s San Francisco district.

Flex-Plan Services co-owner Hilarie Aitken, the executive who admitted to applying for all the Pelosi-district waivers, sits on the board of the Employers Council on Flexible Compensation (ECFC), a Washington trade-group that lobbies to “represent and promote flexible compensation programs.” ECFC was one of many groups that lobbied the HHS to give itself annual limit waiver power through a rule making process.

Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin told TheDC Pelosi’s district getting Obamacare waivers was “unflippingbelievable” and 2012 GOP presidential candidate former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty called it “crony capitalism.”

The administration’s sudden change of heart with the Obamacare waivers raises lots of questions, too, including why it decided to do away with the program. As Colin Hanna of conservative group Let Freedom Ring points out, the administration still hasn’t answered why it denied waiver applications it did.

“It is unbelievable that a government agency can decide with a stroke of a pen who is exempt from a healthcare plan that very few now want to support,” Hanna said. “But when regular Americans want the same provision, the answer is ‘no.’ And when Americans want to know who was denied a waiver and why, the answer is ‘no.’ Whatever happened to President’s Obama campaign pledge for unprecedented transparency? If anything, we’ve only seen unprecedented obfuscation.”

Hanna’s organization launched a web initiative to raise awareness about the administration’s lack of transparency and refusal to answer basic questions about the Obamacare process. At WheresMyWaiver.com, Let Freedom Ring encourages Americans nationwide to question the administration’s unequal treatment.

Hanna points out, too that the administration’s late-Friday news dump is a sign that there’s political malfeasance going on with this program, even though Larsen and other administration officials have continually denied such issues. “Secretary Sebelius seems to think that dumping objectionable waiver news on a Friday afternoon will protect her from the public’s wrath,” Hanna told TheDC. “I’ve got news for her: we the people are smart enough to know that we still haven’t our waiver, and will keep demanding ‘Where’s MY Waiver?’ until we get one.”

Hanna also expects that the administration’s sudden decision to do away with the controversial program is an attempt to avoid having to answer to lack of transparency criticisms.

“The Obama Administration’s termination of the yearly waiver process is a clear attempt to avoid the public’s outcry each and every time a waiver has been granted to Americans arbitrarily deemed as ‘special,’” Hanna told TheDC. “Such childish hiding isn’t an act of a leader, but of a self-concerned politician.”