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Health Insurance Waiver Program to End Sooner

In a move which was surely calculated to smooth Obama’s re-election efforts next year, the President’s administration announced on Friday that the health care waiver program will end. This program has been fiercely criticized by GOP congressmen ever since its inception.

Although Obama’s camp stated that political concerns were “Absolutely not” a factor in this policy decision, it is difficult to view it any differently.

Steve Larsen, the head of the Health and Human Services department that oversees the PPACA, stated that new applications for the health care waivers will not be accepted after the 22nd of September. Any approvals or renewals for the program which are receiver prior to the deadline will be processed through 2013. Beginning in 2014, the PPACA’s main tenets will become law, not just policy, and the waivers will not be needed any longer.

The waivers address a provision of the law that phases out annual dollar limits on coverage by health insurance plans. Starting this year, plans could not impose a limit below $750,000. But some plans, offered mainly to low-income workers, currently provide $50,000 a year in coverage, and in certain cases much less

The waiver program was a way for the government to allow health insurance plans to begin phasing out yearly dollar limits on health care spending. As of 2011, health care plans cannot impose a policy limit below $750,000. However, some plans, especially those offered to workers with low incomes, only allow $50,000 in spending. Sometimes even less. These plans, without the waiver program, would have needed to increase their premium prices dramatically or else close entirely, leaving many more Americans uninsured. They essentially were established to prevent existing coverage from being disrupted. By 2014, when the PPACA mandate becomes effective, taxpayer-subsidized health insurance will be made available to those people covered by such plans.

There has been much talk among Republican lawmakers regarding supposed favoritism in the awarding of these waivers, including allegations that the waivers were granted to unions. However, the GAO released a review report earlier this week, showing that HHS had actually approved more than 95% of the applications it received for waivers, a total of more than 1,400 requests, and that the majority of them were employer plans. The GAO also discovered that the HHS administration applied objective decision-making standards.

Mr. Larsen commented on Friday that health insurance industry experts have given advice to his office regarding information that most insurance plans which needed waivers had most likely already applied for one. For this reason, Larsen advised the administration to end the waiver program sooner than originally expected.

Ed Haislmaier, a talking head from the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, stated, “It looks like they finally figured out they were in a public relations hole and decided to stop digging,” in effect communicating the suspicion with which Republicans regarded this policy move.

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