Three SEIU Locals–Including Chicago Chapter–Waived From Obamacare Requirement
Monday, January 24, 2011
By Fred Lucas
By Fred Lucas
Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) rests her arm on an autographed copy of the health care law legislation. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
(CNSNews.com) – Three local chapters of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), whose political action committee spent $27 million supporting Barack Obama  in the 2008 presidential election, have received temporary waivers from a provision in the Obamacare law.
The three SEIU chapters include the Local 25 in Obama’s hometown of Chicago.
The waivers allow health insurance plans to limit how much they will spend on a policy holder’s medical coverage for a given year. Under the new health care law, however, such annual limits are phased out by the year 2014. (Under HHS regulations, annual limits can be no less than $750,000 for 2011, no less than $1.25 million in 2012 and no less than $2 million in 2013.)
The SEIU, with more than 2 million members nationally, includes health care workers, janitors, security guards, and state and local government workers.
The three SEIU locals, covering a total of 36,064 enrollees, are covered by the federal waivers, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.
HHS gave a waiver  to Local 25 SEIU in Chicago with 31,000 enrollees on Oct. 1, 2010; to Local 1199 SEIU Greater New York Benefit Fund with 4,544 enrollees on Oct. 10, 2010; and to the SEIU Local 1 Cleveland Welfare Fund with 520 enrollees on Nov. 15, 2010.
So far, the Obama administration has issued waivers to 222 entities, including businesses, unions and charitable organizations. Of that total, 45 were labor organizations.
A total of 1,507,418 enrollees are now included in the waivers . More than one-third — 512,315 – of the enrollees affected were insured by union health plans.
SEIU Local 1199’s health plan put a $50,000 cap on medical expenses for its New Jersey nursing home workers, according to 1199 SEIU spokeswoman Leah Gonzalez. That’s $700,000 under the 2011 limit stipulated by HHS regulations.
In September, HHS announced it would grant waivers to employers to prevent some workers from losing their benefits if the insurer could not meet new health care law’s requirements on annual limits. 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.
Local 1199, SEIU’s Greater New York Benefit Fund, requested the waiver specifically with respect to its separate plan for New Jersey members, according to Gonzalez. This waiver primarily affects low-wage New Jersey nursing home workers whose health care plan provides medical, hospital, prescription, dental and vision benefits.
The New Jersey members now have an annual maximum health care benefit of $50,000. Gonzalez said fewer than 1 percent of members have ever reached that cap, and that those members who did received additional help.
“The members’ health benefits are paid for by the employer and are negotiated through collective bargaining,” Gonzalez said in a written statement to CNSNews.com. “Several years ago, facing limited dollars from the employers for this small group, the members themselves chose how to shape their health plan to get the most out of their coverage.”
Gonzalez added that prescriptions are excluded from the cap. “For example, if a member maxes out from a hospital stay, she/he can continue to get their life-saving medications throughout the year while accessing alternative coverage at low-cost community clinics.”
Neither SEIU Local 25 nor Local 1, nor the national organization responded to CNSNews.com’s request for comment.
The SEIU’s Committee on Political Education made $27,829,845.91  in independent expenditures on 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. (See earlier story. )