Brother, Can You Spare a Waiver?

In an unprecedented turn of events, massive corporate interests and various unions have been selectively granted a waiver for the "annual limit requirements" of ObamaCare. These are requirements in the health care bill that company-sponsored health care plans have high minimum thresholds for spending on "essential health benefits." 

Why did these companies need this exemption? The Department of Health and Human Services sums it up like this in a disclaimer:

Applications for waivers from annual limit requirements 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.

Two unpleasant implications should stand out when Americans read this statement: large premium increases and enrollees losing access to their current plans. One year ago, while Obama and Congress were out there pitching, these two outcomes were presented as outside the realm of possibility with this legislation. 

Losing access to our employer-sponsored plans? We were assured that that was just a conservative scare tactic -- you could always keep your company plan if you want. And increased premiums? We were assured that such talk was just more fear-mongering from the right -- if Americans were smart enough to understand the bill, they'd know it would decrease the cost of health care and thereby decrease premiums, not increase them.

But the reality is that this "annual limit requirement" alone would guarantee that a premium increase or dropped coverage would be a likely outcome for Americans who enjoy company health benefits. 

Many Americans have what are called "mini-med" plans.  These provide highly affordable health coverage, and their affordability is tied to the fact that there is usually a cap on annual benefits. But these plans with lower caps are outlawed by the new health care legislation, and by 2014, no caps will be allowed on company health care plans whatsoever. So going forward, companies must make the choice to offer these employees a health care plan with a higher cap (a minimum of $750K this year, a far cry from the many affordable plans with caps of $10K), or they must drop the health care coverage for their enrollees in these plans. If they opt for the former, it will translate to a more expensive policy, which will in turn translate to higher premiums for participants as the cheaper policies can no longer be offered by law. If they opt for the latter, enrollees will lose their health benefits altogether.

That's not a very good deal for Americans or American business, so the waivers sound like a good idea. But it seems you have to be in a pretty exclusive club to get one, which has caused a heightened scrutiny for these waivers. Consider that these 111 companies and unions that have received them are all influential entities with considerable financial or political clout. 

So Robert Gibbs had to defend the distribution of waivers for these companies in a recent press conference. "The waivers are about ensuring and protecting the coverage that people have until there are better options available to them in 2014." He speaks on behalf of the administration, assuring us that they are allowing these waivers to protect Americans. Not surprisingly, he fails to address the fact that this administration's flagship legislation is the very reason we need this protection in the first place.  

But the Health and Human Services disclaimer reveals more than Gibbs and the administration probably would have liked. According to the disclaimer, we can assume that if a premium increase is not too "large," or the result is that a less "significant number" of enrollees lose their benefits, the government will not grant the waiver. This is absolute proof that ObamaCare is very capable of driving up premium cost and resulting in dropped coverage, and that government officials are subjectively deciding who can be exempt from the law. So even though ObamaCare was proposed as a means to lower premiums and give Americans more options, the reality is that the fear-mongering conservatives were right about a few things. Premiums can rise, and options can be taken away, leaving a government waiver or the "better options" of ObamaCare as the only alternatives. 

Considering the faulty promises of this administration and the spot-on predictions of its opposition, I shudder in anticipation of the revelation we may find about the macabre "death panels" that have been panned as a right-wing myth.

It seems that all the right people are getting waivers to opt out of ObamaCare: the right unions, the right companies, and all the right people in Congress. In fact, Congress went to great lengths to legislate exemptions from Obamacare before even passing the bill, completely waiving their own need to ever adhere to it! That fact alone should speak volumes about ObamaCare's merits. If it is good for Americans and good for American business as they claimed, why is it not good enough for the people who designed it and rammed it into law in spite of popular opinion?

It is painfully apparent that ObamaCare is not good for Americans and that it was grossly misrepresented prior to passage. So please, Mr. Obama, while it seems we might have caught your administration in the mood to grant certain favors, may we humble millions who don't want this law to affect us and our families please have our waivers, too?

William Sullivan blogs at