More Than 1,300 ObamaCare Insurance Waivers Granted, Says GAO

By Matt Cover | June 16, 2011 | 3:55 AM EDT

Mike Griffith, of Canton, Ga., holds a sign during a protest against President Barack Obama's health care reform plan outside the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta, Wednesday, June 8, 2011. A three-judge panel of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals was hearing arguments on whether to reverse a Florida judge's ruling that struck down the law. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

( The Department of Health and Human Services has granted a total of 1,372 waivers from ObamaCare insurance mandates since the law’s enactment, according to a new Government Accountability Office report.

The waivers are for so-called mini-med plans that offer annual coverage limits. They were outlawed by ObamaCare and are scheduled to be regulated out of existence in 2014.

However, such plans are often the only form of health insurance available to workers and without the waivers most would no longer be available.

“The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), which became law in March, 2010, generally prohibits health insurance issuers and group health plan sponsors from imposing annual limits on the dollar value of ‘essential’ covered health benefits beginning on January 1, 2014, but allows restricted annual limits, as defined by the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS), on the value of those benefits until that time,” the GAO explained.

Because these new regulations would end up denying health insurance to millions of Americans, HHS began issuing waivers so that people could keep their health coverage despite the new mandates.

“To mitigate a potential impact on individuals’ access or premiums for existing plans with benefit limits below these amounts, HHS established a waiver program based on the statutory requirement.”

HHS in fact established a new government office to process and evaluate the tide of waiver applications submitted by companies and unions trying to keep their health plans from being eliminated by ObamaCare.

“To implement various provisions of PPACA, including those related to annual limits, HHS created what is now called the Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight (CCIIO).”

Because of the waivers, 3.1 million people will not see their insurance plans regulated out of existence.

The GAO found that HHS generally only granted waivers to plans that would have seen a 10 percent or greater increase in premiums, generally denying applications from those below that level. However, HHS did not have any specific criteria for granting or denying a waiver application.

“CCIIO granted waivers on the basis of applications’ projected significant increases in premiums or significant decreases in access to health care benefits,” the report said. “Officials told us that they could not exclusively rely on specific numerical criteria to define a significant increase in premiums or a significant decrease in access to benefits.”

“Nevertheless, officials said that applications with a projected premium increase of 10 percent or more tended to be approved while applications with a projected premium increase of 6 percent or less tended to be denied. Applications with a premium increase between 7 and 9 percent were subjected to a closer review.”

Of a total of 1,415 applications received as of April 201, HHS denied only 65, GAO reported.

The common denominator among approved waivers was not their size, GAO found, but rather the claim that the ObamaCare mandates would cause companies to stop offering coverage or severely restrict what the mini-med plans cover.

Some of the plans for which waivers were approved had coverage limits as high as $2 million a year.

“The current plan annual limits for approved applications in our sample ranged from a low of $444 to a high of $2 million with a median limit of $45,000,” the report said.