More than one million Americans have escaped the clutches of the Democrats' destructive federal health care law. Lucky them. Their employers and labor representatives wisely applied for Obamacare waivers earlier this fall and got out while the getting was good. Now, it's time for Congress to create a permanent escape hatch for the rest of us. Repeal is the ultimate waiver.
As you'll recall, President Obama promised repeatedly that if Americans liked their health insurance plan, they could keep it. "Nobody is talking about taking that away from you," the cajoler-in-chief assured. What he failed to communicate to low-wage and part-time workers across the country is that they could keep their plans -- only if their companies begged hard enough for exemptions from Obamacare's private insurance-killing regulations.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services website, at least 111 waivers have now been granted to companies, unions and other organizations of all sizes who offer affordable health insurance or prescription drug coverage with limited benefits. Obamacare architects sought to eliminate those low-cost plans under the guise of controlling insurer spending on executive salaries and marketing.
It's all about control. If central planners can't dictate what health benefits qualify as "good," what plans qualify as "affordable" and how health care dollars are best spent, then nobody can. The ultimate goal, of course: precipitating a massive shift from private to government insurance.
McDonald's, Olive Garden, Red Lobster and Jack in the Box are among the large, headline-garnering employers who received the temporary waivers. But perhaps the most politically noteworthy beneficiaries of the HHS waiver program: Big Labor.
The Service Employees Benefit Fund, which insures a total of 12,000 SEIU health care workers in upstate New York, secured its Obamacare exemption in October. The Local 25 SEIU Welfare Fund in Chicago also nabbed a waiver for 31,000 of its enrollees. SEIU, of course, was one of Obamacare's loudest and biggest spending proponents. The waivers come on top of the massive sweetheart deal that SEIU and other unions cut with the Obama administration to exempt them from the health care mandate's onerous "Cadillac tax" on high-cost health care plans until 2018. _
Other unions who won protection from Obamacare:
-- United Food and Commercial Workers Allied Trade Health and Welfare Trust Fund
-- International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Union No. 915
-- Asbestos Workers Local 53 Welfare Fund
-- Employees Security Fund
-- Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 123 Welfare Fund
-- United Food and Commercial Workers Local 227
-- United Food and Commercial Workers Local 455 (Maximus)
-- United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1262
-- Musicians Health Fund Local 802
-- Hospitality Benefit Fund Local 17
-- Transport Workers Union
-- United Federation of Teachers Welfare Fund
-- International Union of Painters and Allied Trades (AFL-CIO)
-- Plus two organizations that appear to be chapters of the International Longshoremen's Association (ILA)
Several of these labor organizations did not respond to requests for comment about their waivers. But Jay Blumenthal, financial vice president of the Local 802 Musicians Health Fund in New York, did explain to me: "We got grandfathered in" (his description for getting a pass) because "things were moving so fast" and "we need time now to prepare for the law." In other words: Policy cramdowns first, political fixes later. A supporter of Obamacare, Blumenthal told me he "sees no irony, no," in unions supporting the very health care "reform" from which they are now seeking relief.
Chris Rodriguez, director of human resources at Fowler Packing Company in California's San Joaquin Valley, sees things a little differently. Fowler pursued an HHS waiver because their low-wage agricultural workers would have lost the basic coverage his company has voluntarily offered for years. "We take care of our employees, and we warned (health care officials that) if they imposed this, large numbers of workers would lose access to affordable coverage," he told me. Rodriguez said he's grateful the firm won a waiver, but he did not lose sight of the fact that the very policies passed to increase health insurance access are having the opposite effect: "That's our government at work."
Indeed, some prominent government officials who lobbied hardest for Obamacare are now also joining waiver-mania -- including liberal Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden, who has been pushing for an individual mandate exemption for his state of Oregon, and Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska, who is pushing to waive Obamacare's burdensome 1099 reporting requirements of small businesses.
Fearful of retribution by HHS Secretary and chief inquisitor Kathleen Sebelius, who has threatened companies speaking out about Obamacare's perverse consequences, many business owners who obtained waivers refused to talk to me on the record. One said tersely: "We did what we had to do to survive."
A new House GOP majority now has the chance to protect the rest of America from this regulatory monstrosity. We want out.