Sarah Palin, Tim Pawlenty and other leading conservatives blasted former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the Obama administration Wednesday over the huge number of waivers from the national healthcare law being granted to posh eateries and other businesses in Pelosi’s San Francisco district.
Pelosi and administration officials, meanwhile, fired back saying the lawmaker had nothing to do with the waivers and that conservatives were orchestrating a smear campaign.
“Seriously, this is corrupt,” Palin told The Daily Caller, referring to the waivers the San Francisco businesses received. “And anyone who still supports the Pelosi-Reid-Obama agenda of centralized government takeovers of the free market and the corresponding crony capitalism is, in my book, complicit.”
But the two-day dustup may have obscured a more pressing question for Democrats: Why are businesses in liberal San Francisco and elsewhere clamoring to opt out of the massive healthcare law that was supposed to help them?
The answer boils down to simple dollars and sense, experts say. Because so-called Obamacare prohibits lifetime dollar limits on health insurance plans, businesses from Pelosi’s — as well as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s — districts are demanding waivers because they already are paying for employees to be covered in plans with limits in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
“Obamacare forbids insurers from placing annual and lifetime limits on health plans,” explained The Heritage Foundation’s Kathryn Nix on the think tanks’ blog. “These ‘consumer protections’ have endangered the limited coverage plans that some employers currently offer.
“Unable to provide more comprehensive coverage, those employers would be forced to drop coverage altogether if they abide by the new law. To avoid this consequence of the new law, employers are flocking to secure the waivers offered by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to keep their employees covered.”
Heritage’s Foundry blog likened the situation to a sickened patient clamoring to be spared the vaccine that’s supposed to save them. The patient knows better than the “doctor” it may end up killing them.
In fact, the law very well could destabilize the entire national health insurance market, according to Sen. Dean Heller, R-NV.
“It is becoming increasingly clear how flawed this law really is,” Heller said. “Not only did it cut a half trillion dollars from Medicare, impacting thousands of Nevada’s seniors, now the law would have driven health insurers out of our state if a reprieve had not been granted . . . This is why ‘Obamacare’ will not work for Nevada.”
On Monday, The Daily Caller ignited the debate with a story reporting that among HHS’s most recent round of 204 Obamacare waivers granted across the nation, “38 are for fancy eateries, hip nightclubs and decadent hotels in House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s Northern California district.” To date, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has approved just 1,372 Obamacare waivers , covering 3.1 million  Americans.
Conservatives, reacting to the fact that 19 percent of the waivers had gone to the district of one of the law’s unabashed champions, didn’t hold back.
“It looks like Obamacare’s backroom sweetheart deals didn’t end when it became law,” House Speaker John Boehner’s spokesman, Michael Steel, told the Daily Caller.
Palin accused the Obama administration of corruption for granting the waivers to constituents of a key Democratic ally.
The National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) plans to use the waiver controversy to attack Democratic supporters of healthcare reform on the 2012 campaign trail.
Republicans played up the news of businesses in Pelosi’s district asking for exemptions to parts of the new healthcare law, The Hill reported.
“Remember when former Speaker Pelosi said we needed to pass the Obamacare bill to find out what was in it?” Steel told The Hill in an email. “I guess once they found out, the high-end eateries and spas in her Congressional District weren’t big fans.”
On Fox News on Tuesday night, former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty called the waivers as clear evidence of “crony politics or crony capitalism.”
“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,” Pawlenty told Sean Hannity.
Newt Gingrich, who is still recovering from his seeming endorsement of the Obamacare insurance mandate, 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.
But the San Francisco Business News and Pelosi’s defenders said that the waivers are so heavily concentrated in San Francisco not because of any political maneuvering but because of Healthy San Francisco.
Under Healthy San Francisco, all San Francisco businesses with over 20 employees must provide health care coverage or access to health care for its employees. Many employers opt to open a Health Reimbursement Account or HRA for its employees; those accounts are then used to reimburse employers for some health care costs.
The waivers that are granted for one-year periods are intended to protect employees from suffering any reduction in coverage because of suddenly increased premiums, and to limit how much employers need to pay in a given year for coverage.
“We have mandatory health care expenditures. We are the only place I know of in the country that has that,” said Rob Black, executive director of the Golden Gate Restaurant Association. “Because we have a 100 percent expenditure rate, we are going to have a much higher take-up rate (of waivers) than the country as a whole. That is what is driving that.”
But the very fact that companies and unions covering 3.1 million Americans need to request waivers of the requirements for a $750,000 level of coverage and comprehensive services including vision, dental, and other services when they currently provide lower levels of health insurance for their employees illuminates the central problem with the law, writes Stanley Goldfarb on the conservative FrumForum blog.
“Most small companies can’t afford to provide comprehensive fee for service, unmanaged health insurance to their employees,” Goldfarb pointed out. “If business can’t provide it now, the unaffordability of comprehensive insurance will be transferred to the taxpayers. Subsidies will be provided to the new insurance exchanges and we’ll have to borrow trillions of dollars more in the coming years to pay for it.
“If Obamacare succeeds in its essential goal of providing comprehensive health insurance to another 30 million people, companies will be foolish not to put their employees into the newly created plans. Certainly all the companies and organizations that have requested waivers will be doing exactly that. They can’t afford comprehensive insurance now and won’t be able to afford it in 2014.”
Once again, the burden will fall to American taxpayers.