By Mike Lillis and Julian Pecquet - 05/17/11 10:27 PM EDT
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) had no influence on the healthcare waivers granted last month to a long list of businesses in her district, according to the company that managed the applications.
Republican leaders on and off Capitol Hill had slammed the Obama administration for granting a growing number of healthcare reform waivers to constituents of the top House Democrat, suggesting they received special treatment.
But Hilarie Aitken, co-owner of Flex-Plan Services, Inc., which filed the waiver applications on behalf of dozens of businesses, said that’s simply not the case.
“I usually vote Republican,” Aitken added, “and I'm a little bit ashamed at where the Republicans have taken this.”
Earlier on Tuesday, Jim Aitken, another co-owner of Flex-Plan Services, told The Hill that the company had never filed any waiver applications to the Department of Health and Human Services. Hilarie Aitken, his niece, corrected the story later in the day.
Steve Larsen, director of the department’s Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight, also said Pelosi had no influence in the decision and that the San Francisco businesses were given no special treatment.
“These temporary waivers are necessary to help ensure that the waiters, dishwashers, maids, home health aides, and other hardworking people can keep the health coverage they have, while we transition to 2014, when they will have access to affordable coverage in a competitive marketplace,” Larsen told The Hill in an email.
“HHS applied the same standard to the application from Flex Plan Services that it uses when reviewing any application for a temporary waiver."
The statements from Aitken and HHS follow a Tuesday report in the Daily Caller, a right-leaning news website, indicating that HHS approved 204 new waivers in April, with 38 of those – or roughly 19 percent – going to businesses located in Pelosi’s San Francisco district.
Republicans – including House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and former-Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin – were quick to pounce, suggesting that Pelosi’s constituents were given special treatment.
“It looks like ObamaCare’s backroom sweetheart deals didn’t end when it became law,” Boehner spokesman Michael Steel told the Daily Caller.
Palin weighed in as well, accusing the Obama administration of corruption for granting the waivers to constituents of a key Democratic ally.
“Seriously, this is corrupt,” Palin told the Daily Caller. “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.”
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.
“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.”
Pelosi’s office also said they had nothing to do with the waivers, and Pelosi spokesman Nadeam Elshami accused the Republicans of exaggerating the story to win political points.
“It is pathetic that there are those who would be cheering for Americans to lose their minimum health coverage or see their premiums increase for political purposes,” Elshami said in an email. “The complaints coming from this crowd that supports ending Medicare is just another example of putting politics first.”
The Democrats’ new healthcare law prevents health insurers from capping annual benefits, beginning in 2014. The provision is being phased in, with minimum benefits set at $750,000 for 2011.
The one-year waivers are designed to prevent significant premium increases or an erosion of coverage. Businesses that apply for the waivers are saying they would either have to pass the costs of the premiums on to their customers or drop coverage.
HHS had approved 1,372 waivers – more than 90 percent of the applications – at the start of May.
This story was posted at 1:52 p.m. and was last updated at 6:27 p.m.