House Prepares Investigation of Obamacare Waivers

By Fred Lucas | February 4, 2011 | 4:09 AM EST

President Barack Obama speaks during the Organizing for America National Health Care Forum, Thursday, Aug. 20, 2009, at the Democratic National Headquarters in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

( – The Republican congressman leading the investigation into the Obama administration’s decision to grant more than 700 waivers to the new health care law is questioning whether the law could be effective if so many waivers are needed.

Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.) also noted the high percentage of Obama-supporting labor unions that received waivers -- which exempt them from a provision in the new health care law that bans annual limits on what insurance plans will pay for medical coverage.

“The American people repeatedly have been told that the new health care law is an effective and responsible plan for overhauling the nation’s health care system,” Rep. Stearns told in a statement. “Yet, if the law is so good, why are so many waivers to the law being granted?”

Stearns is chairman of the subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations for the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which is investigating the waivers granted to various companies, unions, non-profit organizations and states and municipalities.

In a letter to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Stearns and Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) are seeking to find out how many entities applied for waivers, how many were granted waivers, and how many were denied waivers. They also want to know what the criteria are for granting or denying waivers.

The health care law, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, eliminates annual caps, or limits, on how much an insurance plan will pay in benefits for an enrollee in any given year, by 2014. Under the law, the HHS is now phasing out the coverage limits.

In 2011, yearly caps can be no less than $750,000. In 2012, they can be no less than $1.25 million, and they can be no less than $2 million in 2013.

Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) seeks the chairmanship of the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee

In September 2010, HHS announced it would grant waivers to employers to prevent some workers from losing their benefits if the insurer could not meet the new health care law’s requirements on annual limits. The waivers are granted by HHS if it determines “compliance with the interim final regulations would result in a significant decrease in access to benefits or a significant increase in premiums,” according to a Sept. 3 memo by Steve L. Larson, director of the HHS Office of Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight.

The number of waivers grew from zero in September to 222 by the end of 2010 and 733 at the end of January.

“From December 2010 to January 2011 the number of waivers grew from 222 to over 700,” Stearns said in a statement to “And yes, a lot of these waivers are going to the unions. The Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee of the Energy and Commerce Committee is investigating these waivers and we have requested from the Department of Health and Human Services the documents detailing the internal deliberations on what entities are seeking waivers and what entities have been granted or denied waivers. As a matter of fairness, I must question the value of a law that requires so many waivers.” has reported that the United Federation of Teachers, representing New York City School Teachers, is the largest recipient of waivers so far. The UFT is a member of the American Federation of Teachers, a major contributor to the Democratic Party.

In addition, several locals of the Service Employee International Union (SEIU) and the United Food and Commercial Workers union, both major contributors to Democratic candidates, received waivers.