What is the straight dope on "Obamacare" exemptions?

I was listening to a little bit of talk-radio yesterday and the hosts were going off on how groups (in this instance, an origination representing nursing homes) were lobbying for exemptions to the health insurance mandate. I’ve overheard others at work complaining about Obama giving exemptions to his health care reform laws to unions and “his other supporters.”

It is my understanding that these exemptions are just temporary and are used to provide an incentive for health insurance companies to continue offer coverage to low-wage employees (say, in the fast food industry) before the full-effect of the health reform laws are enabled. The new regulations outlaw annual caps on coverage and these exemptions are to allow a cap for a few years to keep premiums affordable for certain workers. Is there any more to it than this?

What are they (whoever “they” are) supposedly being exempted from? The requirement to buy insurance? And this is so they can continue to buy insurance as they have been doing? That does not seem to make much sense.

I don’t know what this is about, but my WAG is that what you have been hearing is just one more small piece of the huge disinformation campaign that has been relentlessly waged against health care reform.

You pretty answered your own question. The wavers are for plans with limited caps, to allow them to keep the same coverage until 2014, when the insurance companies will have to end the capped plans and presumably the waivers will become moot.

Here’s the HHS listing of the wavers granted and the reason for granting them.

Yup, that’s it by and large.

Certain political groups like to imply that it is a permanent waiver, or a waiver from the employer mandate. It is actually a temporary waiver allowing them to continue their “mini-med” plans until the exchanges are on line. In the future, plans with low coverage limits will not be allowed as they defeat the entire purpose of having universal coverage.

I believe there are also a few state-wide waivers applying to insurance companies, but that part is less clear to me. Simplicio’s link provides some good information, with links to multiple FAQ’s.

All one needs to do is look at who has been granted exemptions to see that politics are at play. Anyone notice that 38 of the latest 204 exemptions are located in Nancy Pelosi’s district? I don’t mean to move this discussion toward poilitical preferences, but this exemption business is as dirty/corrupt as it gets.

I’m so glad this talking point showed up. It’s been bouncing around the right-wing boards all day so I didn’t want to be the one to mention it.

None of the blogs pinging this around have listed them, of course, but I guess that’s small potatoes when corruption claims can be made. You forgot to mention that they were “luxurious” and “gourmet” restaurants, by the way.

It would seem to me that, at a minimum, a claim of corruption would require a business that applied for a waiver and was denied. If they are all approved then how can it be corrupt?

That whole discussion is for GD of course - the GQ question has been answered.

What the establishments are is not the issue. Surely, when 38 of the latest 204 are located where they are, questions do arise.

What questions?

…never mind…

Apparently waiver requests are rejected at a rate of less then 10%, so it hardly seems like you need to bribe a Congressperson to get them. I would suspect either San Francisco simply has a lot of small businesses that require waivers, or that Pelosi’s constituent outreach office has been better at encouraging them to apply for them.

According to Jay Carney (who, apparently, has to actually respond to this bullshit seriously - thank God I don’t have his job), HHS has approved something like 1,300 temporary waivers and rejected fewer than 100. That’s some pretty lousy corruption, but then again maybe they just aren’t good at it yet.

Another useful rule for both political statistics and sporting ones (he has a 6 hits in his last 17 at bats!) - if the denominator seems to be arbitrary, it probably was chosen for effect. Someone tell me how many of the waivers for March were from San Fan and then we can talk.

Here’s The Hill on the Pelosi waivers. Apparently all the waivers in question stemmed from a single request, which is why so many of them came from the same types of companies on the West Coast. And to stress the fact that they’re ridiculously easy to come by, the company the request apparently didn’t even want them, they just sent a letter of interest which was interpreted as a request for a waiver. Apparently if you have capped plans, and want a waiver for a year, the gov’t isn’t going to spend a lot of time trying to decide that you don’t need one.

If people are bribing Pelosi for these things, they’re seriously wasting their money.

I think a lot of people are misinformed about this. Like I said in the OP, my co-workers are all under the impression these waivers are for the individual mandate and that they are permanent. Basically, that Obama’s big supporters (the unions) are be exempted of having to comply with any of the new health care regulations. I was pretty sure this wasn’t the case and wanted to verify this before telling them otherwise.

I really don’t see the problem with granting waivers as they are. It seems like the logical thing to do to keep people insured through this hybrid period before the full regulations take effect.

Somewhere Socrates is laughing.

Nope, other than to provide fodder for talk-radio.

Are you sure the waivers are due to become invalid when the real health care reforms kick in in 2014?

Incidentally, the right-wing complaints about the waivers are a little bit opportunistic: the story initially received attention when McDonalds said that it might have to stop offering its very low-coverage health care plans to its workers because of the new regulations. The right-wing media kicked up somewhat of a fuss about how ‘Obamacare’ was resulting in people losing their insurance. McDonalds and the Obama administration then both said the story was overblown and that McDonalds, like most other companies making such complaints, would get these waivers to let them continue offering the same plans. Now suddenly it’s the waivers that are the problem for them!

If the waivers are only temporary I’d be OK with that - if they extend beyond 2014 then that would completely undercut the purpose of the reforms.

Yes. See the hhs webpage I linked to earlier in the thread.

So they allow companies to buy a form of insurance which it won’t be legal for insurance companies to offer after 2014.

Never mind the health care reform that finally passed is basically what was at one time the preferred mainstream Republican solution to the health care problem (see “Romneycare”).

For what it’s worth, Pelosi’s office is saying that they had nothing to do with the waivers granted for her district. Apparently there’s an agent company called Flex Plan Services which submitted applications for waivers on behalf of all of their clients - many of whom are in Pelosi’s district because their industry has deliberately clumped together - directly to the Obama administration. Pelosi’s office claims they never even saw the applications.

Now that doesn’t mean they couldn’t have known about them, or advised the company how to make them, or put in a good word for them with the Obama administration. But on the other hand, the fact only about 100 claims have been denied out of about 1300 suggests there isn’t a major corruption scandal here.