GOP raises more questions about healthcare waivers

House Republicans on Wednesday threatened to use a compulsory process if the Health and Human Services Department doesnt voluntarily turn over more documents about controversial waivers from part of the healthcare reform law.

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said HHS has not answered questions about the waiver process or provided all of the records he requested while investigating the issue.

In a letter to HHS, Issa questioned the department's assertion that it had always intended to stop issuing new waivers beginning in September. HHS said the cutoff provided a full year for companies to seek an initial one-year waiver, which can be extended through 2014.

But HHS memos from September 2010 indicate that the department intended to require a new waiver application every year, Issa said, as opposed to the three-year extension HHS ultimately provided. He cited a document in which Steve Larsen, head of HHS’s healthcare reform office, referred to an annual waiver process.

Issa also said HHS has failed to produce copies of every waiver request and to clearly explain the process for determining whether to grant a waiver.

The waivers apply only to a small part of the healthcare reform law. The statute prohibits health plans from placing per-year caps on benefits, but some employers only offer so-called mini-med plans with tight benefit limits. The department allowed many of those policies to remain in place through 2014, based on the assumption that employers were more likely to quit offering coverage altogether than to provide more comprehensive policies.