Embarrassing publicity in a tough election year has forced the administration to back down from one of its vaunted consumer protections. If it were not for a front-page story in the Wall Street Journal, nearly a million low-wage workers would lose their health insurance thanks to new rules imposed by ObamaCare. McDonald’s and 29 other firms have received waivers from a requirement to up the minimum benefit covered by insurance, making it possible for their employees to continue to buy low-cost coverage. But thousands of other workers are not exempted and will not be able to afford the government’s idea of good insurance.
Starting next year, insurers will be required to cover up to $750,000 in costs, ratcheting up over the next few years so that coverage must be unlimited by 2014. The administration calls that a consumer protection, but it only protects you if you can afford it. Firms that hire low-wage workers, such as McDonald’s, can offer “mini-med” plans that provide lower benefits than a typical comprehensive health plan at a correspondingly lower cost. By far the most popular mini-med plan offered by McDonald’s costs $24.30 a week and covers doctor visits, hospital stays, and some prescription drugs, up to $5,000 each year.
Raising the benefit cap to $750,000 would put insurance out of reach for workers who clearly want coverage. They are buying that insurance with their own money, without the government telling them they have to. Fortunately, they can now keep that coverage, at least for next year.
Would the government have granted the waivers so quickly—in time for the employers to finalize their insurance offerings for next year—without a news story in a major national newspaper? Will the hundreds of other companies that are less aware of the new rules drop their coverage—making thousands of families go without health insurance—without realizing that they could also apply for a waiver? What will happen to millions of middle-class Americans who can’t afford expensive coverage mandated from Washington when that is no longer front-page news?