Dodge City Daily Globe - Dodge City, KS
  • Congressman Huelskamp seeks greater transparency on health care waivers

  • Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius should promote open government by releasing more information about waivers she has granted under the health reform law, Congressman Tim Huelskamp said Friday.

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  • Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius should promote open government by releasing more information about waivers she has granted under the health reform law, Congressman Tim Huelskamp said Friday.
    Huelskamp and 30 other members of Congress have asked Sebelius for additional information concerning applications for waivers under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
    But Huelskamp said Sebelius has not responded to the request for more information.
    "It comes down to two issues here," he said. "The issue of transparency: Why is the administration — particularly Kathleen Sebelius — refusing to make public what should be a public issue? This should all be public record. It went through a normal regulatory process.
    "The second one is the issue of 'If Obamacare is so good, why are you granting waivers?'"
    Earlier this month, Huelskamp alleged that HHS granted special exemptions to businesses and labor unions — an allegation that Sebelius' office has denied.
    HHS officials said Monday that much of the information Huelskamp sought is available on the agency's Web site, www.hhs.gov.
    The health care reform law generally bars sponsors of group health plans from imposing annual limits on the dollar value of essential health benefits, starting Jan. 1, 2014. But sponsors may apply for waivers if they can show that meeting the annual limit would either cause premiums to skyrocket or reduce access to health care benefits.
    The law bans annual dollar limits starting in 2014.
    The HHS has granted 1,433 waivers as of May, which includes 28 unions, according to HHS. More than 95 percent of all waivers were granted to employment-related health plans.
    The government granted waivers for plans that predicted a significant increase in benefits or a significant reduction in access to benefits, the Government Accountability Office reported earlier this month. Applicants who predicted their premiums would rise by at least 10 percent received waivers, while applicants with a projected increase of 6 percent or less did not.
    The HHS has also granted Medical Loss Ratio adjustments to Maine, New Hampshire and Nevada, but seven other states — including Kansas — still have requests pending, according to Huelskamp's June 2 letter to Sebelius.
    The Medical Loss Ratio is the percentage of premiums an insurance company spends on health care, compared to the percentage spent on administrative and overhead costs. The health care reform law requires insurance companies to spend 80 to 85 percent of their premiums on health care, rather than on administrative costs.
    The number of waivers shows that the health reform law has serious problems, Huelskamp said in his letter.
    "Nearly fourteen hundred waivers have been granted in addition to unknown numbers of additional requests that remain pending or have been denied," he wrote. "At the rate of nearly 100 per month since the PPACA was signed into law, we are concerned this demonstrates fatal flaws in last year's health reform law."
    Page 2 of 2 - Huelskamp and his colleagues sought additional information on the following issues:
    • The number and types of requests that were denied, including the applicants' names and cities.
    • The number and types of pending requests that were not posed on the HHS Web site.
    • The average length of time it takes HHS to decide requests for annual limit waivers, Medical Loss Ratio adjustments and other waivers.
    Kansas Reps. Lynn Jenkins, Kevin Yoder and Mike Pompeo joined Huelskamp and 28 other members of Congress in signing the letter.
    Huelskamp said Friday he thought Congress would continue pushing Sebelius to release more information about the decision-making process.
    "The administration owes it to the American people, 'Tell us what you're doing,'" he said. "You said you wanted to be open and transparent, and then you refuse to tell us."
    But Richard Sorian, assistant secretary for public affairs at HHS, said last month that the agency has kept people informed about the waivers.
    "We have been completely transparent about this process, announcing the waiver process in a regulation last summer, publishing clear guidance on the application process on our website, and posting a list of waivers we have granted on our website," Sorian wrote on the whitehouse.gov blog.
    Reach Eric Swanson at (620) 408-9917 or email him at eric.swanson@dodgeglobe.com.
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