Thursday, March 10, 2011

Obamacare update

Wikimedia/ Agradman

The number of waivers issued by the Department of Health and Human Services for one-year waivers from requirements of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) exceeded 1,000 recently.  According to a report in The Hill, recent additions to the waiver list brought the total to 1,040 organizations that do not have to meet the minimum limit of $750,000 coverage.  Many of these organizations offer so-called “mini-med” policies that are inexpensive and offer low limits.

Without the waivers, many companies would likely have terminated their health insurance programs rather than meeting Obamacare’s requirements for expanded coverage.  The cost of converting mini-med policies to full health insurance plans would have been prohibitive.  As it is, the waivers are a stop-gap measure intended to last until 2014 when health care exchanges are scheduled to go into effect. 

A partial list of organizations that have been issued exemptions can be found on the HHS website.  Several states have been issued exemptions, but Georgia is not listed.  There are a number of unions listed among the exemptions, including the Atlanta Plumbers and Steam Fitters Fringe Benefit Fund, the Service Employees International Union, and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. 

Most large Georgia-based companies are absent from the list but many companies that Georgians are familiar with are receiving exemptions.  O’Reilly Auto Parts is a Missouri-based company with many stores around Georgia.  Tennessee-based Ruby Tuesday, a restaurant chain with many locations around Georgia is also on the list.  Cracker Barrel, Pepsico, and Dish Network are some of the other companies receiving exemptions that Georgians know well that have 2011 exemptions.  The exemptions are not listed by state and no address information is provided on the list.

In a second recent development, Judge Roger Vinson, who ruled Obamacare unconstitutional last January, issued a stay of his ruling.  The stay resolved questions about whether the implementation of Obamacare could continue while the federal government appealed to the Supreme Court. 

The judge criticized the Justice Department’s slow movement on the case:  “It was not expected that they would effectively ignore the order and declaratory judgment for two-and-a-half weeks, continue to implement the act and, only then, file a belated motion to ‘clarify.’”  He also encouraged the 11th circuit to place the case on a fast track for review, saying that “The citizens of this country have an interest in having this case resolved as soon as practically possible.”  In all likelihood, the case, which was brought by 26 states, will ultimately be decided by the Supreme Court.  Georgia is also a party to the lawsuit.

It is important to get a speedy resolution to the case because of many parts of Obamacare are being implemented on a schedule.  The majority of the law will go into effect in 2014, but funding will automatically start this year, even if it is not appropriated by the Republican-majority House of Representatives.  Additionally, the law has already fundamentally changed the health insurance landscape by setting off a wave of insurance company mergers and acquisitions.  It also forced many insurers to stop selling child-only insurance policies because they are no longer profitable under the new law. 

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