Extra Health Waivers

For weeks, I have been dutifully checking the Obana Administration web site that listed the waivers granted to one provision of the new health reform law.  But then I didn’t check the day after the State of the Union Address.

And so, I missed the addition of over 500 new waivers, taking the number from 222 to 729 in all.

Like the earlier waivers, these cover everything from the health plans of multiple union locals around the country, to individual cities and counties that provide health insurance for their workers to companies big and small, like the Carey Johnson Oil Co. of Lawton, Oklahoma and Bessey Tools of Le Roy, New York.

As always, there were a couple of interesting group names, like the “Wine and Liquor Salesmen of New Jersey” who needed a waiver from a provision that phases out any limits on benefits that can be paid by health insurance plans.

Most of these plans are known as “mini-meds,” which often insure part-time or low wage workers and have strict (often low) limits on how much in benefits can be paid.

Again, there are a host of unions which won waivers, which of course had critics of the health care reform law even more aggravated.

“Why don’t you just make them permanent?” Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) said of the waivers to Health Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, who gave a side-stepping answer that avoided a direct response on the waiver matter, other than to assure McCain that those getting waivers will adhere to the law which won’t allow any limits on benefit payments beginning in 2014.

Sebelius navigated her way through a hearing of the Senate Health committee without any trouble, though it was interesting when some Republican Senators noted that it was her first appearance before that committee since she was nominated for the job two years ago by President Obama.

That was sort of hard to believe, given that she was the point person for health care reform – but it was another example of how the party in power often soft pedals oversight in the Congress when that party also controls the White House.

GOP Senators raised a series of red flags about the law, alternately demanding change and repeal of the reforms, as Republicans hope to force a Senate vote on that in coming weeks.

One interesting note about the health waivers – as I mentioned above, the latest batch were released on January 26, the day after the State of the Union.

The last time the web page was updated was on Decmeber 3.

But when you look at the list, you will see that none of the over 500 additions to this list had a waiver granted in 2011.

That means, the Health and Human Services Department has been sitting on the public announcement of over 500 waivers for over three weeks.

One of the largest waivers – which affected the health plans over over 21,000 workers – went to something called “MVP.”

That is probably MVP Health Care,

If you go to their web site, you can find a host of “Health Care Perspectives” from company CEO Dave Oliker.

“We do have a health care cost crisis in America, no doubt about it,” Oliker says in one of his blog entries.

“But it’s political grandstanding to blame the insurance industry.  The fact is, the insurance industry has just about nothing to do with the cost of health care.”

Searching through the list of companies, I found one very familiar name, that of PepsiCo, Inc.

Also interesting was that waivers were given to four different states, to allow insurance companies that operate in those states to offer policies below the annual minimum requirement limit.

Those were New Jersey, Ohio, Tennessee and Massachusetts.