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Waiver-mania! The ever-expanding Obamacare escapee list

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By Michelle Malkin  •  November 14, 2010 10:26 AM

Let us briefly review the rapidly growing rolls of companies, unions, and states bursting out of the Obamacare escape hatch.

In early September, I noted the push by Obamacare promoter and Democrat Rep. Ron Wyden for a special state waiver from the very federal mandate he advocated for everyone else.

A few weeks later, McDonald’s finagled its own Obamacare waiver after warning federal regulators that it could be forced to drop its affordable health insurance plan for nearly 30,000 restaurant workers unless it got a pass.

In early October, the Obama administration announced it had granted waivers not only to McDonald’s, but also to several other firms and labor unions.

Now comes word that Torquemada HHS Secretay Kathleen Sebelius has approved a whopping 111 waivers for businesses of all sizes, along with more unions and other providers of health insurance. The escapees include employers of many low-wage and part-time workers whose health insurance plans would otherwise be dropped, including Darden Restaurants — the parent company of the Olive Garden and Red Lobster and other chains, which employ some 34,000 people.

Among the waivers recently granted were for employers like Darden Restaurants, which operates the Red Lobster and Olive Garden restaurants, for 34,000 of its workers. Federal officials have granted 111 waivers to employers, insurers and union plans, who are responsible for covering about 1.2 million people.

Darden said the waiver would allow it to offer employees access to affordable coverage as the health care law is started.

Also on the list: Carlson Restaurants, which owns T.G.I. Friday’s, and hair salon chain Regis Corp:

Without waivers, companies would have to provide a minimum of $750,000 in coverage next year, increasing to $1.25 million in 2012, $2 million in 2013 and unlimited in 2014.

According to HHS, waivers depend on “a series of factors including whether or not a premium increase is large or if a significant number of enrollees would lose access to their current plan because the coverage would not be offered in the absence of a waiver.”

Carlson Restaurants and Regis declined interview requests but e-mailed statements.

“Providing competitive health benefits to our team and their family members is a very important priority for us,” said Anne Varano, senior vice president for human resources and communication at Minnetonka-based Carlson. “The [Health and Human Services] waiver allowed us to continue providing health benefits to our team members at an affordable cost while giving us additional time to develop longer-term approaches. ”

Said a spokesperson at Minneapolis-based Regis Corp.: “Until [health care] reform is further solidified, it is premature to comment.”

Also on the list: Dish Networks and more. At this point, the better question is: Who won’t be on the list after the Obamacare central planners fully acknowledge the destructive consequences of their schemes?

Aetna, based in Hartford, Connecticut, was part of a first round of waivers in September for 209,423 beneficiaries in plans that don’t comply with the new requirement. Oak Brook, Illinois- based McDonald’s Corp., the world’s largest restaurant chain, Jack in the Box Inc., based in San Diego, and the United Federation of Teachers also were among the waiver recipients.

About 200,000 people were included in the new round of exemptions, bringing the total to almost 1.2 million people, HHS said on its website. Also on the list for exemptions are Manor Care Inc., a nursing-home company owned by Washington-based private equity firm Carlyle Group, and Universal Forest Products Inc., a lumber company based in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Spokesmen for Manor and Universal Forest didn’t immediately respond to messages seeking comment.

…Dish Network, the Englewood, Colorado-based No. 2 U.S. satellite-television provider, will be given a waiver for 3,597 employees, and Orlando, Florida-based Darden Restaurants, owner of the Olive Garden and Red Lobster chains, will get a waiver for 34,000 workers, according to the HHS list. Darden spokesman Rich Jeffers didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. Dish Network spokesman Marc Lumpkin declined to comment.

The waivers, which last for a year and can then be renewed, let workers keep coverage until new options are available in four years under the law, said Jessica Santillo, a spokeswoman for the agency.

The list of most recently approved refugees is here. Make no mistake: Team Obama isn’t granting the waivers out of bleeding-heart compassion for the affected workers, but out of a panicked urgency to avoid a public relations disaster.

As I’ve boiled it down before:

Old Democrat promise: Everyone gets to keep their health insurance.

New Democrat promise: You can keep your health insurance…if you BEG hard enough for an Obamacare waiver.

Yep: The only way for hundreds of thousands of workers to keep their health insurance is to exempt them from the government-imposed “fix.”

The Soros monkeys are attacking conservative Obamacare critics as “Republican repeal mongers” — even as the Obama administration concedes failure and continues to approve temporary repeals of the federal mandates to company after company after union after union.

Waiver-mania also comes on the heels of Democrats’ own push to repeal the onerous 1099 provisions:

A leading Senate Democrat vowed Friday to introduce legislation killing a part of the new healthcare reform law that imposes new tax-filing requirements on small businesses.

Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), chairman of the Finance Committee and a leading architect of the reform law, said a provision requiring businesses to report more purchases to the IRS will impose undue paperwork burdens on companies amid an economic downturn when they can least afford it.

Baucus, who had pushed legislation scaling back the requirement earlier in the year, now wants it repealed in full.

“I have heard small businesses loud and clear and I am responding to their concerns,” Baucus said in a statement. “Small businesses are the backbone of our economy in my home state of Montana and across the country, and they need to focus their efforts on creating good-paying jobs — not filing paperwork.”

Guess we are all “repeal mongers” now, eh?

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