SEIU Gets Three More Obamacare Waivers; Union's PAC Spent $27 Million Backing Obama's Election

By Fred Lucas | January 31, 2011 | 1:56pm EST

President Barack Obama embraces Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, left, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif. in the East Room of the White House after signing the health care bill into law on March 23, 2010. (AP File Photo/Charles Dharapak)

( – Three additional locals of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU)--an organization whose political action committee spent $27 million in independent expenditures promoting Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign--received one-year waivers exempting them from complying with a provision in the new health care law.

That brings to six the total number of SEIU locals that have received waivers from Obamacare.

The health care law, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, requires that annual caps on how much an insurance plan will pay in benefits for an enrollee in any given year must be eliminated by 2014. Under the law, the Department of Health and Human Services is now phasing the coverage limits out. In 2011, yearly caps can be no less than $750,000; in 2012, they can be no less than $1.25 million; and in 2013, they can be no less than $2 million in 2013.

The waivers granted to the SEIU locals exempt them from having to comply with the phasing out of the annual benefits caps.

A waiver for the SEIU Health and Welfare Fund 2000 in St. Louis, Mo., covering 161 enrollees, was approved on Dec. 23, 2010, according to the updated list of waivers released last week by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The SEIU Health and Welfare Fund, covering 1,620 enrollees, was approved for a waiver on Dec. 20, 2010. SEIU Local 300, the Civil Service Forum Employees Welfare Fund in New York City covering 2,000 enrollees, got a waiver on Dec. 17, 2010. previously reported that three locals, including the Chicago chapter of SEIU, received waivers, according to the initial list released by the HHS. These were Local 25 SEIU in Chicago with 31,000 enrollees, approved on Oct. 1, 2010; Local 1199 SEIU Greater New York Benefit Fund with 4,544 enrollees, on Oct. 10, 2010; and SEIU Local 1 Cleveland Welfare Fund with 520 enrollees, on Nov. 15, 2010.

The SEIU, with more than 2 million members nationwide, includes health care workers, janitors, security guards, and state and local government workers.

So far, the Obama administration has issued waivers to 733 entities, including businesses, unions, municipalities and four states, and charitable organizations, covering a total of 2.2 million enrollees.

In September, the HHS announced it would grant waivers to employers to prevent some workers from losing their benefits, if the insurer could not meet the new health care law’s requirements on annual limits (or caps on coverage). The waivers are granted by HHS if the department determines “compliance with the interim final regulations would result in a significant decrease in access to benefits or a significant increase in premiums,” according to a Sept. 3 memo by Steve L. Larson, director of the HHS Office of Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight.

An SEIU spokesman referred to a recent release from the organization regarding the health care waivers.

The release said, “SMEAR: SEIU Is Using Loopholes in the New Healthcare Law to Get Waivers. So is it true? No.”

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, rests her arm on an autographed copy of the Democrats’ health care bill after it passed the House on Sunday, March 21, 2010. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

“The overwhelming majority of SEIU members are covered by plans that will be complying with the $750,000 cap requirement” as required for 2011, the release said. “Before we reformed our national healthcare system, SEIU was on the frontlines figuring out how to make sure low-wage workers had access to healthcare. For example, while most janitors in Texas don’t have any health insurance, Houston janitors who are SEIU members were able to get the healthcare they needed through union initiatives, including free primary care through the Houston Service Workers Clinic. Now that the Affordable Care Act has passed, SEIU funds have applied for waivers to ensure that our members have the best coverage possible until all the benefits of the law kick in.”

The release further says, “The waiver process is a key part of healthcare reform because it helps ensure that workers won’t lose their employer-provided health coverage.”

“It’s important to remember that the coverage we are talking about are low cost plans that cover low-wage workers, some of whom have never had healthcare coverage in their lives,” states the release.

The SEIU's Committee on Political Education made $27,829,845.91 in independent expenditures to promote Obama’s presidential campaign in 2008. SEIU-affiliated groups in Illinois have long supported Obama’s campaigns and endorsed him for the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate in 2004. In 2008, the national union backed Obama for the Democratic presidential nomination.

SEIU has been a strong supporter of the health care legislation, which was passed by the Democrat-controlled Congress last year and signed into law by President Obama in March 2010.

After the House voted to repeal the health care reform law this January 2011, SEIU President Mary Kay Henry staunchly defended the law.

“Americans cannot afford to lose the benefits of the healthcare law -- including discounts for seniors struggling with the cost of lifesaving prescriptions, protections for children previously denied care due to a pre-existing condition and coverage for young adults up to the age of 26 through their parent's policy,” Henry said in a statement.

“Americans cannot afford to see future benefits of the law derailed,” she said. “Without the insurance protections that take effect in 2014, one of every two adults might otherwise be denied healthcare coverage due to a pre-existing condition such as asthma, heart disease, diabetes or arthritis. And Americans cannot afford for their elected representatives to waste time on the job when the problems facing working families are real and urgent.”

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