Nearly a million workers won’t get a consumer protection in the U.S. health reform law meant to cap insurance costs because the government exempted their employers.Thirty companies and organizations, including McDonald’s (MCD) and Jack in the Box (JACK), won’t be required to raise the minimum annual benefit included in low-cost health plans, which are often used to cover part-time or low-wage employees.
The Department of Health and Human Services, which provided a list of exemptions, said it granted waivers in late September so workers with such plans wouldn’t lose coverage from employers who might choose instead to drop health insurance altogether.
Without waivers, companies would have had to provide a minimum of $750,000 in coverage next year, increasing to $1.25 million in 2012, $2 million in 2013 and unlimited in 2014.
“The big political issue here is the president promised no one would lose the coverage they’ve got,” says Robert Laszewski, chief executive officer of consulting company Health Policy and Strategy Associates. “Here we are a month before the election, and these companies represent 1 million people who would lose the coverage they’ve got.”
The United Agricultural Benefit Trust, the California-based cooperative that offers coverage to farm workers, was allowed to exempt 17,347 people. San Diego-based Jack in the Box’s waiver is for 1,130 workers, while McDonald’s asked to excuse 115,000.
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