By Sam Baker - 01/06/12 07:26 PM EST
Roughly 1,200 companies received waivers from part of the healthcare reform law, the Health and Human Services Department said Friday.
Friday marks the last time HHS will have to update the total number of waivers, putting to rest a recurring political firestorm. The department had been updating its waiver totals every month, prompting monthly attacks from the GOP.
All told, 1,231 companies applied for and received waivers from the law’s restrictions on annual benefit caps. The law requires plans to gradually raise their benefit limits, and all annual limits will become illegal in 2014. Companies that received waivers can keep their caps intact until 2014.
The waivers cover slightly less than 4 million people, or about 3 percent of the population, HHS said.
Faced with the monthly cycles of GOP criticism, HHS announced last summer that it would stop accepting applications for one-year waivers and would simply grant or deny waivers all the way through the end of 2013.
The total of 1,231 includes all of the waiver requests HHS granted — companies that only applied for a three-year waiver, companies that got a one-year waiver as well as an extension, and companies that got a one-year waiver but did not ask for an extension.
HHS denied 96 waiver requests.
The final total is actually lower than the last monthly update. Earlier in the process, HHS had been granting waivers to a type of plan that it later decided should be completely exempt from the restrictions on annual limits. HHS had granted waivers to almost 500 of those plans before exempting them altogether.