Insurance Waivers Reignite Health Care Law Debate

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WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama says the goal of his health care law is for every American to have health insurance.

But his administration is now being criticized for issuing waivers, excusing some organizations from the new law.

Opponents point out that nursing homes, lavish restaurants and even night clubs have been exempt from the massive new health care law.

More than 1,400 employers who offer insurance coverage have also been waived from parts of the president's health care law.  Now, GOP lawmakers are introducing legislation to end the waivers.

"If the bill was so good you wouldn't need all these waivers," said Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah.

Hatch is one of many lawmakers wanting answers from the administration on the groups that denied waivers.

"Most of the waivers were given to unions and companies, and for companies with businesses within some of the leading liberal Democrat's jurisdictions," Hatch charged.

Health and Human Services has said, "There is no role that politics plays in any way, shape or form in the processing of the (waiver) application."

Instead of political poker chips, the Obama adminstration insists waivers serve as a bridge.

When the law takes full effect in 2014, employees dropped from their employer's insurance can enter the new taxpayer subsidized health care exchange.

Until then, a portion of the health care law dealing with annual benefit payments could put workers at risk of losing their coverage.

That creates a public relations nightmare for the administration -- a law designed to get more Americans insured could cause people to lose their insurance without a waiver.

"I think that everyone should hate the 'Obamacare' waiver story," said Hadley Heath of the Independent Women's Forum. "People who love 'Obamacare' should hate it because there are people being waived from it. People who hate 'Obamacare' should hate the waivers because there are people who aren't being waived."

The Government Accountability Office recently found the administration used objective standards to issue waivers. But, critics argue the process seems shady.

"The problem is when you do this kind of thing you create something that's arbitrary," explained Ed Haislmaier, senior research fellow of health policy studies at the Heritage Foundation. "(With) this waiver process... even if you're being straight and honest, you do create suspicion because it's a 'who you know' process. It's not what the law says."

The Obama administration says most of the insurers that needed waivers have probably already applied, and ending the program won't hurt.

But cutting off waivers also ends a political distraction for the president ahead of the 2012 presidential election.

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