QSR giants granted insurance benefits waivers

Bloomberg has reported that McDonald's Corp. and Jack in the Box Inc. are two of 30 companies that were granted waivers from new health legislation designed to raise minimum insurance benefits, or “mini-med” plans, at the end of September. The move gives hope to industry voices calling for either a blanket or case-by-case waiver so restaurant companies that can’t profitably comply with the new minimums don't abandon coverage for temporary workers.

From the story:

The plans will be exempt from new rules meant to keep people from having to pay for all their care once they reach a preset “cap” on their coverage as part of the health-care law signed by U.S. President Barack Obama in March. McDonald’s offers workers so-called mini-med programs as a low-cost way to cover part-time employees with limited benefits.

McDonald’s told the Obama administration it may re-evaluate the plans if it didn’t get a waiver. The Department of Health and Human Services said last week the administration was providing waivers so workers with minimum plans would stay covered and avoid major premium increases.

The mini-med plans in question are used by many quick-service and other restaurant operators to cover part-time and temporary workers. They cover basic components of medical plans that include doctor’s office visits, preventative care, hospital confinement and prescription drugs. However, they do not offer catastrophic or comprehensive coverage, according to Sue Hensley, SVP of public affairs communications for the National Restaurant Association.

The NRA submitted a document to Health and Human Services in late August calling for a blanket waiver from annual limits for limited benefit plans until 2014, when other alternatives will become available to temporary workers, per new health care legislation. Alternately, the NRA asked for a case-by-case waiver program to be designed for fast and easy utilization among employers. The restaurant industry needs such waivers, the letter argued, because of its high percentage of temporary workers, mostly employed by small businesses, who can’t afford to offer more complete coverage for part-timers.

“Essentially, if the annual limit restriction is strictly applied (and the waiver is too hard to obtain) to limited health benefit plans, aka mini-med plans, many of (the restaurant industry’s) 1.4 million current (mini-med) beneficiaries could lose coverage with nowhere to go until 2014,” Hensley said.

But she said the waivers so far prove HHS has listened to the industry's concerns.

"One of the things we asked for was for HHS to allow insurers to apply on behalf of their clients," she said. "So we're perfectly happy ... at this point with how HHS is approving the waivers, and it looks like things are moving forward."

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