Right-Wing Media's Newest Waiver Attack Falls Flat

It's been nearly two years since the passage of President Obama's health care reform bill, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), and the right-wing media's apocalyptic predictions (“the end of America as you know it”) have still failed to be realized. In response, the brunt of most attacks have focused on minor issues, such as the temporary waivers that the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) have issued to employers who have found the pace of the transition too rapid.

The newest line of attacks on the waivers came after HHS issued a series of reports on PPACA implementation last Friday. The conservative website The Daily Caller reacted to the document release last Friday, alleging that "[l]abor unions [were the] primary recipients of Obamacare waivers." From The Daily Caller:

Labor unions continued to receive the overwhelming majority of waivers from the president's health care reform law since the Obama administration tightened application rules last summer.

Documents released in a classic Friday afternoon news dump show that labor unions representing 543,812 workers received waivers from President Barack Obama's signature legislation since June 17, 2011.

By contrast, private employers with a total of 69,813 employees, many of whom work for small businesses, were granted waivers.

The allegations were picked up quickly by Big Government, who called the high number of waivers going to labor unions “crony capitalism,” and by Fox & Friends who this morning called it a “sweetheart deal.” Fox Business host Stuart Varney further claimed that “96 [waiver applications] were rejected, and I believe it was mostly private enterprise companies that were rejected.” Watch:

But even a cursory look at the documents released by HHS tells a different story. The waivers, which temporarily excuse a health care plan from following regulations that remove annual limits on benefits, were issued to about 1,200 plans as of January 6, 2012. Those are broken down into self-insured employers, which are largely private businesses, multi-employer plans and non-Taft Hartley Union plans, both of which are offered by labor unions, and a few others. The update by HHS shows that of the 1,200 plans currently approved for waivers, more than 60 percent (772) are self-insured employers, while 451 went to labor unions. The number of employees granted waivers does favor labor unions, but only because those plans simply cover far more people than any specific private business plan that has sought a waiver. It's not that labor unions are favored, simply that plans representing more insured individuals have applied.

Where the allegations of “sweetheart deals” and “crony capitalism” really fall apart, however, is in the list of denied applications. While Varney claims that “mostly private enterprise companies” were denied applications, the list of denials shows that only 20 of the 96 ultimately denied plans represented private business; the majority of rejected plans were actually from labor unions. In fact, of the 1,019,810 enrollees in plans that were denied and were not subsequently approved, fewer than 11,000 were enrolled in self-insured employer plans.