Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Probes New Bureaucracy Responsible for Granting Widespread Waivers for Massive Health Care Law

February 16, 2011

WASHINGTON, DC - The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations held a hearing today examining the new bureaucracy responsible for granting widespread waivers for the massive health care law.  The subcommittee heard from the officials responsible for granting the waivers, Steve Larsen, Deputy Administrator and Director for the Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight (CCIIO), and Jay Angoff, Senior Advisor, Office of the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and former Director of the Office for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight (OCCIO).

Today's hearing marks the first Energy and Commerce oversight hearing on the massive health overhaul since it was signed into law in March 2010.  Despite repeated requests by Committee Republicans, Chairman Waxman refused to conduct any oversight of the government takeover of health care.  Full Committee Chairman Upton and Subcommittee Chairman Stearns have pledged vigorous oversight of Obamacare.  Early into the 112th Congress, on January 20, 2011, the committee sent a letter to the CCIIO seeking information about the office's authority, structure, and recent decisions to grant widespread waivers of the health care law's requirements.

"What does it say about the feasibility of a law when you need to exempt over 900 health plans (so far) - or 2.5 million people - from complying with it?," questioned Upton.  "While I think it is a good thing that HHS recognized the significant problems posed by the PPACA -and exempted these  health plans from a requirement that would have resulted in thousands of people losing their health insurance or having reduced benefits - I think it's a tacit admission  that the PPACA is fundamentally flawed. It is important that we uncover the facts about how this law is being implemented and what it means for the individuals and employers who have to live with its costly requirements.  Only when we understand what worked and what didn't can this Congress enact meaningful health care reform that lets people keep their coverage and doesn't pass the bill to future generations."

Information gathered during the hearing indicates that waivers can be secured with relative ease - all that needs to be demonstrated is either a significant increase in premiums or a significant reduction in access to benefits.  Over 900 waivers have been granted and nearly 60 denied.  The waivers simply delay the inevitable as they are only good for one year and will cease to exist in 2014 when the exchanges start.  And if employers need a waiver now, that means they will likely dump their employees onto costly Obamacare rolls in 2014.

"I think it is an understatement to say that these waivers have been controversial. Obamacare was sold as all benefit -no downside," said Subcommittee Chairman Stearns. "So when the public began hearing that while they would have to comply with all of the new regulations and costs, while other individuals would get waivers from the Administration and thus not have to comply and bear the same burdens, they weren't happy. After all, they were promised that if they like their coverage, they could keep it.  They were promised lower premiums.  They were promised lower costs.  What did they get?  Lost coverage. Higher premiums.  Higher costs.  And when the damaging effects of Obamacare got so bad that people were starting to notice?  Then it was time for waivers."

Upton also commented on the documents that the Committee has requested from HHS on waivers, stating, "This Committee has requested a number of documents about the waivers issued by the Center.  We have some documents, but not all.  The documents we do have show that complying with the PPACA would have forced hundreds of businesses to drop the health insurance plans they provide to their workers because the plans that Obamacare would have forced them to have would have been too expensive, and would have bankrupted those businesses."

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