Last year, the HHS website was very efficient posting a list of ObamaCare waivers that had been granted. Ususally by the 3rd of the month the list was updated to included waivers that had been approved in the previous month. But something happened in January. Two weeks into the month no new waivers had been posted.
I was curious what caused the delay so I made some calls. Last Tuesday I spoke by phone with a media relations employees of HHS. She was not allowed to speak on the record, but after checking with folks at OCIIO who handle the ObamaCare waivers, she was able to inform me in a “not for attribution” way that the latest batch of waivers had in fact been processed. There was no specific hold-up that she could identify, they were simply running behind in getting the information on the website.
Well today, the day after the President’s State of the Union, the new waivers are up. You may recall that there were 222 such waivers approved in November. That number has now jumped to 729 through the end of December. The total number of people covered by the waivers has gone from 1.5M to just under 2.2M. The list includes the usual assortment of union locals and businesses.
I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to suggest that OCIIO was asked to hold this development until after the SOTU. Indeed the latest waiver approved in the list is from December 30th. There is an addendum at the bottom of the page noting that four states–Massachusetts, New Jersey, Ohio, and Tennessee–have applied for waivers covering another 93,000 people. The addendum is dated 1/21/11, but I can assure you it was not there on 1/21 or even Monday.
This ever-expanding list of waivers is the direct result of ObamaCare raising the annual benefit caps on certain health plans. Obviously, a plan with higher annual limits is potentially more costly than one without them. The money to cover the difference in premiums has to come from somewhere. Without the waivers, it will come from the employer who are forced by law to upgrade to the more expensive plan. In other words, the 729 organizations who have received waivers are not seeking refuge from an unintended consequence, but from the costs associated with one of ObamaCare’s features. The real question is what these businesses will do once the waiver program comes to an end.