Karl Rove group sues administration over health reform waivers

A conservative organization with ties to Karl Rove sued the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) on Wednesday to gain access to documents detailing how the department decides who can get waivers from the healthcare reform law.

Crossroads Grassroots Policy Strategies (Crossroads GPS) says the suit was prompted by the department's failure to respond to a Jan. 7 request for documents under the Freedom of Information Act.

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The organization is seeking "any and all memoranda, guidance, directives, instructions and other documents … relating to the criteria to be applied by HHS in deciding whether to grant or deny applications for [a] waiver."

"Until President Obama is willing to grant the entire country a waiver from ObamaCare," Crossroads GPS President Steven Law said in a statement, "his administration needs to come clean on how they decide who wins and loses in the waiver lottery."

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius declined to comment on the lawsuit when approached by The Hill Wednesday, but she took the opportunity to defend the waivers, pointing out that they cover just 2 percent of the private insurance market.

“I think that question has been asked and answered,” Sebelius said. “It’s one provision of the bill for which we were given specific direction to look at market disruption. Virtually everyone who’s requested a waiver has been granted a waiver.”

The waivers have turned into a major political headache for the administration, even though they're only temporary exemptions from the law's $750,000 minimum annual cap on benefits for 2011. 

The administration has released multiple guidance documents detailing the process and revealing who got the waivers, but Republicans have been eager to make political hay of the process; they argue the more than 1,000 waivers granted so far are being used to reward political allies or are proof the law is fatally flawed.

Two House committees have held hearings on the waivers. And on Tuesday, the House Small Business Committee joined the fray and demanded that the administration explain its process for granting waivers.

The administration says it has been forthcoming with Republican requests. Spokesman Richard Sorian said the department has given the Energy and Commerce Committee 25 boxes of documents for its hearing on the issue; the department has also published regulations and three guidance documents about the waivers, as well as a regularly updated list of approved waivers.

"All this information has not only been made available to Congress but has also been in the public realm for many months," Sorian told The Hill. "We're being as forthcoming as possible."

Sorian added that the health reform office's move to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services in mid-January had created some "transitional issues" that have slowed down the transmission of public records requests, but that that situation is being resolved.

This post was updated at 4:45 p.m. and 5:30 p.m.