More than 1,000 waivers granted for health care law

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The Department of Health and Human Services posted 126 new health care reform waivers on Friday, bringing the number of organizations being granted a temporary exemption from requirements in the health care reform law to 1,040, the Hill reports.

The waivers, which are typically granted to "mini-med" organizations that provide limited coverage and cannot meet the annual coverage limits mandated by the health care reform law, were meant as a stopgap measure to prevent a disruption in the insurance market upon implementation of the new legislation.

But many Republican lawmakers are pouncing on waivers as evidence of the argument that the law, which Obama signed into law in March 2010, is fundamentally flawed.

"I think it is an understatement to say that these waivers have been controversial," said Rep. Cliff Stearns, a Florida Republican, in a recent interview. "If they needed a waiver in 2011, won't they need a waiver in 2012, 2013?"

State-run insurance exchanges are scheduled to open in 2014, and annual dollar limits on "essential benefits" are expected to be phased out by then.

The Hill reports that less than 2 percent of privately insured individuals - or approximately 2.6 million people - are currently covered under the waivers.

HHS said in a January interview with the Hill that it had approved the majority of waiver requests, but that a number of organizations had been denied because they "did not demonstrate that compliance with the minimum annual limits requirements would significantly increase premiums or decrease access to benefits."

"The annual limit waiver process has been carried out in a way that reflects a commitment to transparency and responsible implementation," Steven Larsen, director of the Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight, told Dow Jones in an interview. "The overriding purpose of this waiver program is to ensure that Americans do not lose their health coverage before better health insurance options become available in 2014."

"I don't think we have created an unlevel playing field," Larsen said, of the accusation that unions and other groups were favored in the application process. "We handle the applications in an unbiased fashion."

HHS also said the number of waivers being granted has been steadily decreasing, according to the Hill, with more than 500 granted in December 2010, 200 granted in January, and 126 granted in February.