After reading a White House blog about waivers from the Affordable Care Act's annual-limit provisions, I still can't decide if Richard Sorian helped to clarify HHS' process to grant these temporary reprieves—or if he just made the agency look defensive.
Transparent or defensive on waivers?
Sorian, HHS' assistant secretary for public affairs, posted a blog Tuesday in which he wrote “there has been no shortage of confusion and deliberate obfuscation on this issue and we want to ensure you have the facts.” The waiver issue has been among the most contentious of the Affordable Care Act provisions for House Republicans, who hosted a hearing in mid-March to examine the fairness and transparency of the process. According to the law, insurance companies starting in 2014 will be prohibited from imposing annual dollar limits on the amount they pay for care. In the meantime, HHS has granted these waivers to employers in cases where the provision would either disrupt access to existing insurance arrangements, or cause a cause an increase in premiums. To date, HHS has granted 1,372 waivers to employers, health plans and others in all 50 states—a figure the agency says covers less than 2% of the insurance market and protects coverage for more than 3 million Americans.
The topic heated up this week when news reports suggested a high number of waivers had been granted to companies located in House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi's (D-Calif.) district.
“We have been completely transparent about this process, announcing the waiver process in a regulation last summer, publishing clear guidance on the application process on our website, and posting a list of waivers we have granted on our website,” Sorian wrote in his May 17 blog.
But isn't the whole point of transparency for something to be so clear that it doesn't require explanation? Shouldn't a truly transparent process speak for itself? More than that, in defending HHS' actions, Sorian slightly opened the door to criticism—and House Republicans barged in.
“By the White House's own admission, the law's mandates will either cause a ‘large increase in premiums or significant decrease in access to coverage.' And worse, if you can't afford it, then you will forced in the exchange,” said a news release from the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Thursday. “Despite the president's promise, the new reality seems to be this: If you like your plan, you need a waiver to keep it—and only until 2014, when the waivers disappear and the government takes over the market.”
You can now follow Jessica Zigmond on Twitter @MHjzigmond.
Send us a letter
Have an opinion about this story? Click here to submit a Letter to the Editor, and we may publish it in print.