The Department of Health and Human Services already has gone through one name change in its 58-year-old history, switching to HHS in 1980 from its original name, the Department of Health, Education and Welfare.
Now it’s time to rename it again to something that more accurately fits its current mission – something, perhaps, like the Department of Catering to Special Interests.
That’s a logical conclusion after looking at the long list of corporations and labor unions that HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has exempted from an early requirement of Obamacare – one that says health plans must provide at least $750,000 in annual insurance protection to those they cover.
McDonald’s was first in line and now, nearly 1,400 companies, states and labor unions have received one-year waivers from Mrs. Sebelius after arguing that the requirement is too expensive and could force them to drop coverage altogether. By the time you read this, the ranks of the specially exempted almost certainly will have grown even larger.
All of which raises a larger question: Why can’t we all get a waiver from Obamacare? Remember to be guided by this golden rule: Pay your dues, and you, too, could be exempt from Obamacare’s rules.
One in five of the latest batch of waivers went to two-dozen posh restaurants, spas and other businesses in former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s congressional district in San Francisco. What a coincidence.
There are more waves of waivers. Nearly two-dozen states have either applied for or have been granted waivers from another Obamacare rule that forces health insurers operating in their states to comply with strict federal limits on how much they can spend on administration versus reimbursements for medical bills.
And now we learn that HHS has just issued regulations requiring health insurers to justify to the federal government any premium increases of more than 10 percent. Get ready for more waiver requests.
This latest rule includes an interesting exemption: Those who sell Medicare supplemental insurance policies won’t have to limit premium increases to 10 percent a year.
It’s probably no surprise that the top marketer of this “Medigap” coverage is the AARP, the self-avowed senior citizens lobby, which spent millions of dollars helping to get Obamacare passed. This is the same AARP that makes upwards of $1 billion in profits from marketing Medigap plans.
The bargain basement rush for waivers began last year after fast-food giants McDonald’s and Jack in the Box asked for and received permission to be exempt from the $750,000 health-insurance coverage limit. In short order, Universal Orlando, Dish Network and the giant Service Employees International Union (SEIU) also were granted waivers. These exemptions now apply to more than 3 million American workers.
In a bizarre near-admission that the so-called “Affordable Care Act” is anything but, the White House issued a blog post defending itself. It is issuing waivers that exempt employers “from the annual limit provision of the law if it would disrupt access to existing insurance arrangements or adversely affect premiums, causing people to lose coverage.”
In other words, Obamacare would cause people to lose their insurance coverage or cause costs to go up if they don’t grant these waivers. Wasn’t Obamacare supposed to do just the opposite?
This sweeping, 2,800-page law bristles with illogical mandates that invite organizations to seek special favors and exemptions. This is crony capitalism at its worst.
All of this reminds people of how angry we were at all the special deals – such as the “Cornhusker Kickback,” the “Louisiana Purchase” and so on – that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, handed out to get Obamacare through the Senate in 2009.
Even President Obama himself is getting into the waiver act. He has said he wants Congress to change the law to give states waivers to implement Obamacare their own way, starting in 2014, rather than having to wait until 2017.
What’s missing here is the rule of law so vital to the functioning of a democracy. After all, thanks to our Founding Fathers, we live in a democracy and not a monarchy, where benefits are bestowed by kingly whim.
Obamacare is the most sweeping piece of social and spending legislation in our country’s history, but now – only 14 months after it was enacted – the administration is conceding that one of its major provisions is unworkable by granting wholesale exemptions from it.
No wonder Democratic pollster Patrick Caddell said the American people thought it was “a crime against democracy.” No wonder polls show that a solid majority of the American people still want it repealed. After all, it’s safe bet there are no Obamacare waivers waiting for them at the Department of Catering to Special Interests.
Grace-Marie Turner is president of the Galen Institute and co-author of “Why ObamaCare Is Wrong for America” (Broadside/HarperCollins, 2011).
Published in The Washington Times, May 26, 2011.