The Department of Health and Human Services has approved more than 700 one-year waivers for “mini-med” and other limited benefit health plans, which exempts them from meeting a key requirement of the federal health care reform law.
As of Jan. 26, the agency said it had approved a total of 733 waivers, up from 222 waivers that had been approved as of Dec. 3, 2010, the most recent prior date that information was available.
In all, the waivers affect plans with about 2.2 million enrollees, HHS said. Many of the recent waivers were granted to local union health care funds. In all, 182 plans that have received waivers are provided through collective bargaining agreements.
The waiver affecting the largest group of enrollees was granted in September to the United Federation of Teachers Welfare Fund in New York, whose mini-med plan has 351,000 enrollees, according to its filing.
The waivers are needed because most, if not all, mini-med plans run afoul of federal rules in the reform law that set a minimum annual dollar coverage limit on essential benefits that health care plans must provide in 2011, 2012 and 2013. The minimum limit is $750,000 in 2011, $1.25 million in 2012 and $2 million in 2013.
Starting in 2014, the law bars annual limits for essential benefits.
The minimum spending, though, is more than the maximum benefits provided by mini-med plans, which typically are offered to low-wage, part-time or seasonal employees.
Under the health care reform law, low-wage employees might qualify for government-subsidized coverage that will be available from insurers offering coverage through new state insurance exchanges starting in 2014, reducing the need for mini-med plans.
Until then, mini-med plan providers can obtain waivers from the required minimum annual benefit in situations where meeting those requirements would result in a significant decrease in access to benefits or significantly increase premiums, HHS said.