Since the passage of the “Affordable Care Act,” it has been some cause for concern -- scandal even -- that several businesses have been granted waivers excusing them from participation in the federal program.
And now we have a final number of how many businesses are exempt from "Obamacare."
Roughly 1,200 companies received waivers from part of the healthcare reform law, the Health and Human Services Department (HHS) said Friday.
“Friday marks the last time HHS will have to update the total number of waivers, putting to rest a recurring political firestorm. The department had been updating its waiver totals every month, prompting monthly attacks from the GOP,” writes Sam Baker of The Hill.
Naturally, Republican opposition to the bill seized on these waivers as an opportunity to advance the argument that the healthcare law is "unworkable."
So how does the HHS justify granting the waivers? The department argues that the waivers show the law provides “flexibility.”
But who gets to choose when the law is "flexible"?
“All told, 1,231 companies applied for and received waivers from the law’s restrictions on annual benefit caps,” Baker writes. “The law requires plans to gradually raise their benefit limits, and all annual limits will become illegal in 2014. Companies that received waivers can keep their caps intact until 2014.”
When added together, the healthcare waivers excuse about 4 million people, or about 3 percent of the population, from having to participate, HHS said.
However, what's slightly unsettling is the fact that the majority of the waivers were handed out to labor unions.
"Documents released in a classic Friday afternoon news dump show that labor unions representing 543,812 workers received waivers from President Barack Obama‘s signature legislation," writes Paul Conner of the Daily Caller. "By contrast, private employers with a total of 69,813 employees, many of whom work for small businesses, were granted waivers."
Because of the backlash over the waivers, HHS announced last summer that it would stop accepting applications for one-year waivers and would simply grant or deny waivers all the way through the end of 2013, according to The Hill.
The total of 1,231 includes all of the waiver requests HHS granted — companies that only applied for a three-year waiver, companies that got a one-year waiver and an extension, and companies that received a one-year waiver but did not ask for an extension.
A total of 96 waiver requests were denied by HHS. Why the healthcare law couldn’t be "flexible" for those 96 requests is anyone’s guess.
“The final total is actually lower than the last monthly update. Earlier in the process, HHS had been granting waivers to a type of plan that it later decided should be completely exempt from the restrictions on annual limits,” Baker writes. “HHS had granted waivers to almost 500 of those plans before exempting them altogether.”
(h/t Weasel Zippers)