Gingrich, Pawlenty Perpetuate Health Waiver Myth

| Wed May. 18, 2011 8:27 AM PDT

The allegation that Democratic Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) used her political clout to help businesses in her district get around new rules imposed by the Affordable Care Act has crumbled as the facts have come to light. But that hasn't stopped Republican presidential contenders from perpetuating this falsehood.

As I reported on Tuesday, the waivers that companies received in Pelosi's district—20 percent of the total reprieves granted in April—came through Flex Plan Services, a third-party insurance administrator that had applied for the exemptions on behalf of its clients without any involvement by Pelosi or her office. The waivers from Obama's Department of Health and Human Services allow the local businesses to keep limited-benefit, "mini-med" plans for employees that became prohibited under the Affordable Care Act. 

In fact, the founder of Flex Plan Services, Hilarie Aitken, confirmed that Pelosi had nothing to do with the waivers granted, calling the conservative attacks on the Democratic leader a "political power play," as The Huffington Post reports. Aitken explains the real reason there were so many waivers coming from Pelosi's district:

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...


"These are some of the administrative hiccups that, I think, when you have a giant health care overhaul like this, you're bound to have," said Aitken. "And I think that's exactly why [the Department of Health and Human Services] put in the option for waivers, because they knew that there are some players who have different types of arrangements all over the nation."

The truth, however, hasn't stopped Republicans from trying to spin the waivers as proof of a sweetheart deal. On Fox News on Tuesday night, former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty called the waivers as clear evidence of "crony politics or crony capitalism." He told Sean Hannity: "If you've got the right connections, the right lobbyists, the right interest group, you get your special deal, and the rest of us get our wallet out, and that's in the tax code, it's in earmarking, and now you see it in ObamaCare." Newt Gingrich has piled on as well. "This discretionary power wielded by unelected bureaucrats presents an enormous danger for corruption. Indeed, we have already seen how they can be abused," he wrote in a Wednesday morning newsletter for the conservative website Human Events. 

Since the truth behind the waivers has surfaced, it's clear that such attacks are purely political. That being said, given the growing scrutiny of the health reform waivers, Democrats may have to examine whether they moved too quickly to implement their new insurance regulations, pushing these companies to ask for these exemptions in the first place.

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