Just one week after Republicans on Capitol Hill announced plans to investigate health care reform waivers granted to certain companies and labor organizations, President Obama's Department of Health and Human Services announced additional waivers for more than 500 other groups.
As we've noted, the HHS has granted temporary waivers that exempt organizations who might not be able to meet the health care law's new requirement for annual coverage. The new waivers exponentially increase the previous number of waivers -- 222. Now, according to the HHS website, 733 organizations are exempt from the law's new regulations, now totaling more than 2 million Americans.
Republicans have previously charged that the Obama administration was using waivers to cover up the law's apparent flaws until after the 2012 presidential election, but HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has dismissed the assertions as “pretty ludicrous.”
“The provisions in the law always gave some flexibility to me as secretary,” Sebelius told The Hill last week. Instead, the Obama administration says the waivers are designed to maintain stability in the insurance market until new state-run insurance exchanges open in 2014. (Click here for a complete list of waivers)
The timing of the HHS waiver announcements is also raising eyebrows, coming just one day after President Obama delivered his annual State of the Union address.
Fox Business Network's Eric Bolling specifically looked at the number of labor unions receiving ObamaCare waivers Thursday, including chapters of the SEIU, an outspoken proponent of the new law:
The new Republican House majority has pledged to investigate the HHS waivers and asked the agency last week for details on the waiver application process.
"We are committed to making the waiver process transparent to the public and to make sure workers with mini-med plans are informed about the limited nature of their coverage," Steve Larsen, director of oversight in HHS's Office of Consumer Information and Insurance, said in a statement. "For example, we have required plans that receive waivers to inform their enrollees that their coverage is limited. HHS also helps to ensure transparency by posting a list of the plans that have been granted waivers, so stakeholders understand how they are affected."
On the Senate side of Capitol Hill, Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, told CNSNews.com Thursday that the latest round of waivers represents a "perfect example of special interests" having influence over the Obama administration.
"You’re going to find out that by the president doing that with the secretary of HHS, he violated one of his main principles when he ran for office--and that was that special interests were not going to have an in in his administration,” the ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee said. “And this is a perfect example of special interests having an in in his administration when they get those waivers.”
Meanwhile, HHS says it anticipated the recent bump in waiver requests because plans were required to file for waivers before year began. Although the agency was unable to provide the number of plans denied waiver requests, an HHS spokesman told The Hill, "It's more than a handful, but not a big number."