July 15, 2024

Program Offering Waivers for Health Law Is Ending

No more applications will be accepted after Sept. 22, federal health officials said.

Steven B. Larsen, director of the federal Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight, said employers and labor unions had until that date to seek exemptions or request the extension of waivers already granted.

The new health care law generally requires employers to provide at least $750,000 in coverage to each person in their health insurance plans this year. Many restaurants, retailers and small businesses do not meet the standard. Some provide “mini-med” coverage with annual limits that may be as low as $10,000.

“Mini-med plans do not provide comprehensive health coverage, but unfortunately they are the only insurance options some consumers have today,” Mr. Larsen said.

The minimum amount of coverage will increase. Federal rules require health plans to provide at least $1.25 million in coverage next year and $2 million in 2013. In 2014, annual limits for new health plans will be banned. In that year, individuals and small businesses will be able to buy comprehensive coverage through state-supervised insurance exchanges.

Waivers granted or renewed in the next three months will run through 2013. To date, the administration has granted waivers to 1,433 health plans covering 3.2 million people.

On Friday, the administration disclosed that it had denied 100 applications and then approved nearly one-third of them after reconsidering the evidence.

To obtain waivers, employers and health plans must show that compliance with the federal requirements would cause a significant increase in premiums or a significant decrease in access to benefits. Without waivers, some employers said, they would have increased premiums or dropped coverage this year because they could not afford to provide higher health benefits.

Republicans have seized on the waivers as evidence that the law is fundamentally flawed.

“If the law is so good, why are more and more employers begging for a waiver to get relief from its burdensome mandates?” asked Senator John Barrasso, Republican of Wyoming. “Americans need waivers from the president’s law because it causes health premiums to go up.”

The policy announced Friday may eliminate the waivers as an issue in the 2012 election year. Under the policy, the administration said, employers and insurers with annual coverage limits below $2 million will have “a reasonable opportunity” to apply for waivers in the next three months.

Republicans have repeatedly asserted that the administration was giving preferential treatment to its political allies by granting waivers to health plans sponsored by labor unions that had supported the legislation. But in a study this week, the Government Accountability Office, an investigative arm of Congress, said health officials had used objective criteria in deciding whether to grant waivers.

E. Neil Trautwein, a vice president of the National Retail Federation, a trade group, said that ending the waivers was “a wise, appropriate step for the administration to take.”

“This step will avoid unnecessary politics and furor over the waivers,” Mr. Trautwein said.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=cef12022462a2fa249f89677b9d0ce4a

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