BY KARL ROVE – A primary task for the new Republican House majority is to undo as many of the pernicious effects of ObamaCare that it can. One of these effects is the spectacle of employers going hat-in-hand to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) for waivers from some of the law’s more onerous provisions.
In September, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius began granting waivers to companies that provided workers “mini-med” coverage—low-cost plans with low annual limits on what the insurance will pay out. This followed announcements by some employers that they would have to drop these plans because they did not meet the new health law’s requirement that 85% of premium income be spent on medical expenses.
By early December, HHS had granted 222 such waivers to provide mini-med policies for companies including AMF Bowling and Universal Forest Product, as well as 43 union organizations. According to the department’s website, the waivers cover 1,507,418 employees, of which more than a third (525,898) are union members. Yet unionized workers make up only 7% of the private work force. Whatever is going on here, a disproportionately high number of waivers are being granted to administration allies.
Then, on Dec. 21, Ms. Sebelius announced that insurance companies seeking rate increases of 10% or more in the individual or small group market must publicly justify the hikes under standards set by her department.
Insurance regulation has traditionally been a state responsibility, and 43 states must already approve proposed insurance-rate increases. ObamaCare does not authorize HHS to deny rate increases, but the agency said that if a state “lacks the resources or authority” to conduct the kind of review the agency wants, it will conduct its own.
This proposed regulation will erode the states’ dominant role in insurance regulation, centralizing more power in Washington. The HHS announcement also mentioned that it will set different thresholds of what constitutes an “unreasonable” increase for every state by 2012.
The Obama administration’s behavior to date suggests that it will not hesitate to take care of its friends. The Senate Republican Policy Committee’s health policy analyst, Chris Jacobs, points out that the administration has already given an extravagant gift to the AARP (American Association of Retired Persons), a key player in passing the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
The AARP provided a big chunk of the $121 million spent on ads supporting the bill’s passage, as well as $21 million on lobbying in 2009, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. HHS’s proposed regulations on Dec. 21 exempted the AARP’s lucrative “Medigap” plans from the rate review and other mandates and requirements.
The AARP and other Medigap providers can require a waiting period before seniors with pre-existing conditions have to be covered. Insurers covering those under 65 cannot.
Karl Rove served as Senior Advisor to President George W. Bush from 2000–2007 and Deputy Chief of Staff from 2004–2007. At the White House he oversaw the Offices of Strategic Initiatives, Political Affairs, Public Liaison, and Intergovernmental Affairs and was Deputy Chief of Staff for Policy, coordinating the White House policy-making process. Email the author atKarl@Rove.comor visit him on the web atRove.com. Or, you can send a Tweet to @karlrove. Click here to order his book,Courage and Consequence. REPRINTED FROM THE WALL STREET JOURNAL