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OPINION

Waive Me

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Townhall.com.

Hear that? It's the escalating cry of American employers and workers trying to hold on to their health care benefits in the age of stifling Obama health insurance mandates: Gangway! Gangway! Save me! Waive me!

Obamacare refugees first began beating down the exit doors in October 2010. As I've documented since last fall, waiver-mania started with McDonald's and Jack in the Box; spread to Dish Networks, hair salon chain Regis Corp and resort giant Universal Orlando; took hold among every major Big Labor organization from the AFL-CIO to the CWA to the SEIU; roped in the nationalized health care promoters at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (whose board of trustees includes health care czar Nancy Ann DeParle); and is now gripping entire states (Maine, New Hampshire and Nevada all recently got in on the act).

The latest to catch the waive? West Coast liberals.

Yes, smack dab in the middle of House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi's congressional district, a cluster of San Francisco small businesses is among the latest recipients of get-out-of-Obamacare passes. As Jamie Dupree of Cox Media Group and Matthew Boyle of The Daily Caller pointed out this week, there are at least two dozen Bay Area companies -- including bars, restaurants, hotels, tourist shops, real estate and auto firms -- that have secured temporary, one-year reprieves from the federal law. It's the San Francisco Treat that voters didn't foresee until after the bill was rammed down their throats.

Another noteworthy waiver winner: Seattle-based REI. The trendy Pacific Northwest outdoor equipment retailer's progressive CEO and Democratic campaign donor, Sally Jewell, appeared with President Obama in 2009 to tout White House health care reform initiatives. Two years later, REI snagged a waiver to protect the health benefits of a whopping 1,180 workers from the very tentacles of the big government bureaucrats Jewell embraced at Obama's roundtable.

To date, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has granted federal health care law exemptions to more than three million American workers covered by more than 1,300 unions, companies and insurers who had voluntarily offered low-cost health plans with annual benefits limits. Meddling Obamacare architects outlawed those private plans -- nicknamed "mini med" plans -- in the name of "patients' rights." But without special waivers, the escapees would have been forced to hike premiums or drop insurance coverage altogether for mostly low-wage, seasonal and part-time workers.

Among the most recent union affiliates to secure pardons from the one-size-fits-all health policy that their bosses spent hundreds of millions of dollars of worker dues lobbying for:

-- Teamsters Local 485 Health and Welfare Fund in Brooklyn, N.Y.

-_- Detroit and Vicinity Trowel Trades Health and Welfare Fund_

-- Communications Workers of America (CWA) Local 1182 Security Benefits Fund_

-- CWA Local 1183 Health and Welfare Fund

-_- Bakers Union and Food Employees Labor Relations Association Health and Welfare Fund

_-- Service Employees International Union Healthcare Illinois Home Care and Child Care Fund_

-- United Food and Commercial Workers San Diego Employers Health and Welfare Trust_

-- Welfare Fund of the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 15, 15A, 15C, 15D AFL-CIO

-_- United Steelworkers Local 1-0318 Health and Welfare Trust Fund_

-- United Association of Journeymen and Apprentices Local 198 AFL-CIO Health and Welfare Trust

_-- Teamsters Local 617 Welfare Fund in Ridgefield, N.J.

-- Teamsters Local 734 Welfare Fund in Chicago

-- Plumbers and Steamfitters Local 60 Health and Welfare Fund

-- New York State Nurses Welfare Plan for New York City Employed Registered Professional Nurses

The ultimate goal, it bears repeating, is to force a massive, revolutionary and irreversible shift from private to public insurance designed by government-knows-best bureaucrats.

Pelosi and the Golden Ticket Administrators in Washington deny preferential treatment for waiver beneficiaries. But the stench of waivers-for-favors won't be dispelled until and unless the Obama administration releases a full list not only of those who won exemptions, but also of those who applied and were denied.

With San Francisco businesses caught with their hands in the waiver jar, Pelosi's office could do nothing else but pout: "It is pathetic," said Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill, "that there are those who would be cheering for Americans to lose their minimum health coverage or see their premiums increase for political purposes."

It is far more pathetic to have cheered, as Pelosi did on the one-year anniversary of Obamacare, the law's onerous benefits limits from which thousands of her own constituents have now been exempted.

Once again, the rest of America wants to know: Dude, where's my waiver?

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