Jordan Fabian is reporting that former Minnesota Governor and likely presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty (R) is the latest influential Republican to endorse a discredited story implying that House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) used her influence to protect businesses in her district from certain regulations in the Affordable Care Act.
The charges originated from the administration’s announcement last month that it had granted an additional 204 waivers to businesses and policyholders from the Affordable Care Act, excluding those entities from having to offer a minimum amount of coverage annually. In a story published on Tuesday, the Daily Caller’s Matthew Boyle implied that since “Of the 204 new Obamacare waivers President Barack Obama’s administration approved in April, 38 are for fancy eateries, hip nightclubs and decadent hotels in House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s Northern California district — Pelosi must have swayed the decision. She did not:
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) played no role in the process by which health care waivers were granted to a number of businesses in her district, according to the company that actually requested the waivers on behalf of its clients.
Flex-Plan Services, a third-party benefits administrator based in Bellevue, Wash., made the formal applications for waivers from President Barack Obama’s health care law, said it founder, Hilarie Aitken. […]
In actuality, Aitken explained, the high percentage of waivers is the byproduct of local law rubbing against the new national legislation. In April 2008, San Francisco passed an ordinance requiring employers to spend a minimum amount per hour on health care for their employees who work in the city. In response, a number of eateries chose to set up Health Reimbursement Arrangements, which are essentially pools of funds set aside by employers to reimburse medical expenses paid by employees.
HRAs are serviced by a third-party administrator or plan service provider. They are also subject to the annual limit provision in the national health care law, which is set at $750,000 in 2011 before it is eliminated fully in 2014.
Like many self-insurance policies and union organizations, employers using HRAs have been applying for a waiver from this provision, arguing that application of the requirements would “completely eliminate the benefit” of setting up the HRA in the first place, Flex-Plan Services said. When they do so, they turn not to lawmakers like Pelosi or to the employers themselves, but to third-party administers like Aitken’s company. (And, as she hinted, political donations by Flex-Plan have leaned Republican, according to data collected by the Center for Responsive Politics.)
Putting aside this particular misguided attack against Pelosi, the GOP is using the waiver “story” to argue that the health care law is so strenuous that even businesses in Pelosi’s heavily Democratic district are trying to find a way out. They’re saying that while also claiming that the Affordable Care Act is a one-size-fits all government monstrosity that doesn’t take the different needs of individual businesses or states into consideration — after all, that’s the entire basis of Mitt Romney’s rejection of the health care law.
But these two arguments can’t both be true and Republicans shouldn’t be getting away with claiming that the law is too didactic while simultaneously attacking the government for providing greater flexibility to businesses and individuals.
A more interesting question to ask would be — should HHS be granting waivers that — at least on their face — undermine the goals of the law. HHS believes that since employees won’t have new coverage options until the exchanges become operational in 2014, the best way to avoid coverage drops is to ensure that employers have flexibility to gradually meet the requirements of the new reforms and transition from subprime insurance that has low annual limits and all kinds of coverage exemptions into comprehensive basic coverage. These waivers are good for a year, but could be extended until 2014, if employees continue to face a coverage cliff.
Newt Gingrich also echoes the charge in his Human Events newsletter: “Yesterday, a report emerged that showed nearly 20% of the new waivers issued by HHS are in Nancy Pelosi’s congressional district.”