Administration hits back at House GOP plans to probe health law implementation

The Obama administration hit back at House Republicans’ plans to investigate implementation of the healthcare reform law.

Republicans on the powerful Energy and Commerce Committee on Thursday asked the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to provide detailed information about groups requesting and receiving one-year waivers for the reform law’s ban on annual coverage limits.

More than 200 groups, unions and businesses have so far received waivers from the requirement. Republicans say the waivers are proof of the reform law’s flaws and are Democratic gifts to union allies who supported the law.

However, HHS Kathleen Sebelius, in a sit-down interview with The Hill on Friday, called both assertions “pretty ludicrous.”

“The provisions in the law always gave some flexibility to me as secretary,” she said.

Sebelius said the waivers were necessary to help individuals keep their health insurance – even if it isn’t the best coverage – until new insurance exchanges opening in 2014 allow individuals and small businesses to pool their purchasing power.


Many of the groups receiving waivers offer low-cost health plans – often called “mini-med” plans – that would have violated the law’s requirement to offer at least $750,000 in coverage in 2011.

“I find it ironic that people who are always demanding flexibility from the federal government are now criticizing flexibility in the federal government,” Sebelius said.

So far, HHS has granted 222 waivers covering 1.5 million individuals. The largest waiver, which covers 351,000 individuals, was granted to the United Federation of Teachers Welfare Fund in New York.

Companies requesting waivers "by and large" are granted them, Sebelius said.

"They're granted on the basis that we don't want to disrupt the marketplace," she said. "We don't want to take away people's health insurance before they have some realistic other choices."