HHS Offers Waivers As Firms, Insurers Threaten To Abandon Markets

The Obama administration has granted “dozens” of waivers that will allow insurers and companies – most notably McDonald’s – to continue offering health benefits that do not meet new health law requirements in an effort “to stave off threats by some health insurers to abandon markets, drop out of the business altogether or refuse to sell certain policies,” The New York Times reports. “To date, the administration has given about 30 insurers, employers and union plans, responsible for covering about one million people, one-year waivers on the new rules that phase out annual limits on coverage for limited-benefit plans, also known as ‘mini-meds.’ Applicants said their premiums would increase significantly, in some cases doubling or more.” Insurers have also threatened to withdraw from the market for children-only health plans because of a new requirement that they cover kids regardless of health conditions (Abelson, 10/6).

“Companies like Jack in the Box Inc., McDonald’s, the United Agricultural Benefit Trust and the United Federation of Teachers Welfare Fund, were allowed to maintain their current levels” of coverage, CongressDaily reports. “An HHS spokesperson said the waiver program was designed to ensure continuous coverage for the workers until 2014, when they can apply for tax credits to obtain insurance through the exchanges. The companies had to prove that without the waiver their employee premiums would increase significantly or they would drop coverage” (Fung, 10/6).

Minneapolis Star Tribune: “Most health insurers in Minnesota have yet to write new individual policies for sick children, despite requirements under the new federal health care law that aimed to start such coverage two weeks ago. The policies for children — one of the few uncontroversial areas of the new law — were supposed to be available starting Sept. 23. But rather than offer individual plans that might attract mostly kids who are already sick, and thus expensive to cover, insurers have cut off or reduced their offerings of individual policies” (Yee, 10/6).

Separately, CongressDaily reports: “The nation’s largest health insurance industry lobbying group says it supports the creation of state insurance exchanges under the healthcare overhaul law, but fault lines are showing between how much regulatory authority the industry believes exchanges should have and what Congress intended in the law.” They believe existing insurance departments should remain separate from the exchanges (McCarthy, 10/6).

What could Republicans do about these and other aspects of the law if they reclaim the House? Reuters reports, “Republicans could keep their promises to stop healthcare reform even if they cannot repeal it, simply by blocking legislation needed to pay for it, one expert argued on Wednesday” (Fox, 10/6).

Earlier, related KHN story: GOP Plan To Change Or Repeal Health Law Could Bring New Complications (Carey, 9/20)


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