Administration’s Waivers Of Health Law Raise Questions About ‘Mini-Med’ Plans

News organizations covered various aspects of the health law implementation.

The Associated Press: “The White House on Thursday defended granting waivers to some employers from a key provision of the new health care law, saying it was the best way to keep people insured until the law fully takes effect. … ‘We want to ensure that in the time that it takes to implement the law and to give people better options, that they don’t find themselves at the mercy of an insurance company jacking up their rates. And that’s why those waivers were granted.” That comes from press secretary Robert Gibbs (Werner, 10/7).

Kaiser Health News talks to two experts — Neil Trautwein of the National Retail Federation and Mark Rukavina of The Access Project — about these “mini-med” plans, and the administration’s move to allow firms like McDonald’s to continue offering them. The background: “Obama administration officials this week said they will grant waivers to about 30 insurers, employers and union health plans to continue offering what are dubbed ‘mini-med’ insurance plans, many of which fall short of benefit requirements stipulated in the new health law” (Villegas, 10/8).

As a result, CNN reports: “Close to a million insured workers will lose out on a significant bump in insurance coverage promised by health reform next year.” Here’s what the waivers will let the firms out of: “Beginning 2011, the new health law mandates that insurers and employers gradually remove annual dollar limits on an individual’s insurance coverage and eventually eliminate these limits by 2014…. In order to phase in this change, the law says that employers and insurers have to offer an annual coverage limit of least $750,000 by next year. The limit would increase to $1.25 million in 2012 and to $2 million in 2013” (Kavilanz, 10/7). 

The Hill: “[T]he threat of employers dropping their coverage because of the new law has emerged as a thorny political problem this fall. … Those waivers were quietly posted on the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) website — without drawing attention to the fact that they’re exempting from the law’s patient protections plans that offer some of the weakest coverage. … The HHS waivers may have assuaged employers, but they prompted infuriated healthcare reform advocates to strongly criticize the administration” (Cusack and Pecquet, 10/8).

Meanwhile, Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, is pressing the health department to seek public comment before finalizing regulations — something officials appear to have eschewed so far, according to a just released report, The Hill writes. Cornyn’s legislation “came a few days before a new report from the Congressional Research Service (CRS) found that, of the 12 reform-related final rules issued this year by the Health and Human Services (HHS) Department, 10 came in the form of ‘interim final rules,’ which don’t include a public comment period. Of the remaining two final rules, HHS sought public input on only one, CRS found” (Lillis, 10/7).

Also in health reform news: Politico reports, “The Department of Health and Human Services quietly changed the web version of a speech in which HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius described how the health care overhaul is going to affect Medicare Advantage plans, a controversial section of the law, after aides to Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) challenged its accuracy.” At issue was a claim by Sebelius that Medicare beneficiaries would have more Medicare advantage plans to choose from. The speech was changed to say they would have “more meaningful choices.” HHS apologized for not disclosing the change (Haberkorn, 10/7).

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