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Mini-med health plan waivers top 1,000: HHS


WASHINGTON—The Department of Health and Human Services says it has approved more than 1,000 one-year waivers—mostly for mini-med plan sponsors—from meeting a health care reform requirement that first restricts and ultimately eliminates annual limits for essential benefits.

Through the end of February, HHS said Friday that 1,040 waivers had been approved in plans affecting more than 2.6 million enrollees.

Waiver approvals peaked in December when just more than 500 requests were cleared, while just less than 200 were approved in January and about 125 were approved in February.

Last month, HHS said it had approved 94% of waiver requests it had received.

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 that set a minimum annual dollar limit on essential benefits that health care plans must provide in 2011, 2012 and 2013 under the health care law. 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.

However, the minimum limits are greater than the maximum benefits provided through mini-med plans, which typically are offered to low-wage, part-time or seasonal employees.

Under the law, low-wage employees might qualify for government-subsidized coverage that will be available from insurers through new state insurance exchanges starting in 2014, reducing the need for mini-med plans.

Until then, mini-med plan providers can obtain waivers where meeting the minimum annual benefit requirements would result in a significant decrease in access to benefits or a significant increase in premiums, HHS said.

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