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CO: Obamacare waivers go to few employers

By   /   August 16, 2012  /   No Comments

By Dan Njegomir | Special to Colorado Watchdog

DENVER — A controversial provision of Obamacare that allows a host of unions and governments around the country to opt out of one of the health-care measure’s costlier provisions has had relatively few takers among employers in Colorado, according to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services statistics.

Waivers granted in some states have tilted heavily toward organized labor and state and local governments, prompting critics to accuse the Obama administration of using the much-debated new law to dispense political favors to Democratic-leaning constituencies.

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 phases out annual and lifetime limits imposed by health plans on the benefits they pay out on behalf of their members. Acknowledging the limits have helped insurers control health-care costs, the Health and Human Services Department has granted U.S. employers temporary waivers from the ban if they can show “compliance would result in a significant decrease in access to benefits or a significant increase in premiums.”

Waivers granted in some states have tilted heavily toward organized labor and state and local governments, prompting critics to accuse the Obama administration of using the much-debated new law to dispense political favors to Democratic-leaning constituencies.

In Minnesota, for example, with a population comparable to Colorado’s, 15 labor unions and 34 heavily unionized local governments and school districts have received the waivers , which remain in effect until the next phase of Obamacare begins in 2014. In all 104 Minnesota employers received waivers.

However, only 20 Colorado employers applied for and received the waivers, including two unions — Colorado Sheet Metal Workers Local 9 and the National Roofers Union — and one religious organization, Colorado Springs-based ministry The Navigators, federal statistics show. The other 17 are private-sector businesses.

Health care policy experts and industry observers in Colorado say it’s unclear why the state’s employers were so sparsely represented among the waiver recipients. Colorado’s relatively low union membership was cited as one possible factor.

Colorado business lobbyist Dan Anglin said many employers might be focused instead on the overall implementation of Obamacare as well as the creation of the state’s new health-benefits exchange.

“Small employers simply have been wondering where they fit in,” he said.



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