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GAO Report Confirms HHS Health Reform Temporary Waivers Based on Fair and Objective Criteria

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A new GAO report released today, Private Health Insurance: Waivers of Restrictions on Annual Limits on Health Benefits, confirms that the process used by the U.S. Department of Health and Human for granting temporary waivers for the "annual limits" provision of the new health reform law was based on objective criteria and employed a thorough, careful, and fair review of health plans that applied.

Background: Under the Affordable Care Act, most health plans must phase-out arbitrary annual coverage limits by 2014. In order to smooth implementation of the law, HHS can temporarily waive that requirement for particular plans in order to avoid significant premium increases and preserve market stability prior to 2014.

New GAO Report Findings: Despite attacks from opponents of the Affordable Care Act, GAO confirms that waivers were granted objectively: "on the basis of applications' projected significant increases in premiums or significant decreases in access to health care benefits." It also found that waivers affected only two percent of those covered by private insurance.

Additionally, GAO determined that the vast majority of applicants who applied received waivers. The data further show that contrary to some Republicans' claims, the waiver granting process did not favor unions or groups friendly to the Administration. According to GAO's data, the majority of denials were for plans that covered union employees.

Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-CA), Ranking Member on the Committee on Energy and Commerce: "In 2014 annual limits imposed by insurance companies that are such a burden for people with cancer and other chronic and life threatening illnesses, will be a thing of the past. The GAO report finds that CMS is implementing this provision -- and the temporary waiver provisions -- in a fair and unbiased manner to ensure a smooth transition until the full array of reforms are in place. The GAO report confirms that the Republican attacks on CMS' implementation have no basis in fact."

Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ), Ranking Member on the Subcommittee on Health on the Committee on Energy and Commerce: "Another criticism of the health reform law by Republicans has been proven wrong. In fact, the GAO report provides more evidence that the Affordable Care Act is successfully taking effect and the temporary waiver process is working. That's not what the Republicans were hoping to hear. The GOP should spend less time and resources in a futile attempt to undermine health care reform and more time and energy on jobs and the economy. Their priorities on the issues of importance to the American people have been as wrong as their attacks on the Affordable Care Act."

Rep. Sander Levin (D-MI), Ranking Member on the Committee on Ways and Means: "This GAO study makes it absolutely clear that the Republican criticism of the waiver process is just another false criticism of health care reform. These Republican attacks are part of a larger plan to return power to insurance companies, deny consumers basic protections, and undo Medicare and its guaranteed benefits, facts be damned."

Rep. Pete Stark (D-CA), Ranking Member on the Subcommittee on Health on the Committee on Ways and Means: "Much to the chagrin of Republicans who've been trying to poke holes in every aspect of health reform, this GAO report shows the waiver granting process is sound, fair, and devoid of preferential treatment for unions. Grandstanding won't get us to an improved health care system that works for all Americans, implementation of the law will."

Rep. George Miller (D-CA), Ranking Member on the Committee on Education and the Workforce: "The GAO shows that the implementation of the waiver granting process is going as intended and providing the needed flexibility during the transition to 2014. Despite these facts, Republicans are more interested in refighting the political battles of the past rather than moving our country forward. They want to put insurance companies back in charge of American's health care by taking away working families' access to affordable coverage and ending Medicare."

Rep. Rob Andrews (D-NJ), Ranking Member on the Subcommittee on Health, Employment, Labor, and Pensions on the Committee on Education and the Workforce: "The GAO report confirms that these Republicans attacks against the Affordable Care Act are just playing politics. We promised that we would provide flexibility to employers during the transition to 2014. And the GAO report shows that we are honoring this promise."

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