McDonald’s, 29 other firms get health care coverage waivers
By Drew Armstrong | Bloomberg Business News
Thirty companies and organizations, including McDonald’s (MCD) and Jack in the Box (JACK), won’t be required to raise the minimum annual benefit included in low-cost health plans, which are often used to cover part-time or low-wage employees.
The Department of Health and Human Services, which provided a list of exemptions, said it granted waivers in late September so workers with such plans wouldn’t lose coverage from employers who might choose instead to drop health insurance altogether.
Without waivers, companies would have had to provide a minimum of $750,000 in coverage next year, increasing to $1.25 million in 2012, $2 million in 2013 and unlimited in 2014.
“The big political issue here is the president promised no one would lose the coverage they’ve got,” says Robert Laszewski, chief executive officer of consulting company Health Policy and Strategy Associates. “Here we are a month before the election, and these companies represent 1 million people who would lose the coverage they’ve got.”
The United Agricultural Benefit Trust, the California-based cooperative that offers coverage to farm workers, was allowed to exempt 17,347 people. San Diego-based Jack in the Box’s waiver is for 1,130 workers, while McDonald’s asked to excuse 115,000.
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The quietly approved federal waivers for 30 companies, health insurers, unions and other groups across the country means the UFT doesn’t have to gradually phase out caps on annual health coverage like everyone else.
The UFT was concerned that could have been a major financial hit on the union.
The one-year waiver, approved last month by the Department of Health and Human Services, covers all 351,000 members of the UFT’s welfare fund, which provides health care and other benefits.
The UFT has the largest pool of affected employees of the 30 organizations that received waivers. The second largest was CIGNA with 265,000 members.
Critics have questioned the need for the exemptions, who got them, and why.
“Big labor spent millions of dollars pushing ObamaCare, which they made sure was stuffed full of union giveaways,” said Patrick Semmens, spokesman for the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, which represents businesses.