Obama playing favorites

Published 12:08 am Thursday, August 4, 2011

President Obama has made it clear over the course of the debt debate that compromise would not come at the expense of certain big government priorities. He has insisted on a debt-ceiling increase to get him through the next election and listed budget items that were “untouchable” to spending cuts. The President’s costly health-care plan topped this list.

Surveys continue to show that the majority of Americans do not think Obamacare is good for our country. A report released last week by the National Federation of Independent Business reveals that small businesses have serious concerns, too. At least 75 percent of employers expect higher taxes, uncontrolled health-care costs and no relief from paperwork burdens because of the 2,000-page law.

One of the most telling signs that the President’s health-care plan is flawed comes from the Obama administration itself. The Department of Health and Human Services has granted at least 1,471 waivers to states, labor unions and companies that cannot afford to meet the plan’s burdensome mandates. The new rules are “financially impossible,” these groups say, and would overwhelm their ability to offer insurance to employees.

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Of the more than 3 million Americans currently covered by the waivers, about half receive their insurance through union-affiliated plans. Ironically, the same unions now asking for exemptions were once supporters of the health-care law.

Before his ill-advised reform became law, President Obama repeatedly told Americans, “If you like your health-care plan, you can keep your health-care plan.”

Instead, the provisions in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act have threatened this guarantee. According to a recent study by McKinsey & Company, 30 percent of companies said they are very likely to drop employee benefits after 2014, when the law takes full effect. Even the chief Medicare actuary for the President has estimated that more than 14 million will lose employer-provided coverage over the next eight years.

The current practice of arbitrarily handing out waivers to select friends is evidence of bad policy and an unfair overreach of government power. Every American should be able to apply for protection against the harmful effects of the President’s health-care plan until we can enact a full repeal. The Waive Act, recently introduced by Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), would give all Americans the right to seek relief from higher premiums and restricted access to benefits. I am a co-sponsor of this important legislation.

The President continues to dismiss the financial burden that his health-care plan will put on hardworking Americans. The Congressional Budget Office reports that health-care premiums will rise by $2,100 annually for families who buy their own insurance. Moreover, as the law’s provisions make insurance “financially impossible” for employers to provide, those who are left newly uninsured will be forced to turn to Washington for coverage. Taxpayers could be left with a bill of up to $900 billion a year.

The Department of Health and Human Services announced in June that it will stop taking waiver applications in September. Organizations that miss the deadline could be saddled with high costs or unable to provide insurance at all. The employers forced to shoulder the expensive mandates may be too cash-strapped to innovate or hire new workers, which is essential to our economic recovery. The Waive Act can help give Americans the options they deserve — a promise the President has failed to deliver.

Sen. Roger Wicker is a Republican representing Mississippi in the U.S. Senate.