President Barack Obama’s health care law is bound to be a central issue of the 2014 midterm elections. In North Carolina, first-term Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan, is already facing attacks about Obamacare.
Americans for Prosperity, a conservative political advocacy group, released an ad against Hagan. It starts out with a series of claims praising women for being breadwinners and job creators. Then, it pivots: "But Kay Hagan just doesn’t get it."
"Hagan supports waivers for friends of Obama and special treatment for Congress and their staffs," the video continues.
Hagan did vote to pass Obamacare in 2010, but does the law include "waivers for friends of Obama" and "special treatment for Congress and their staffs"? We’ll look into both parts of this statement.
We’ve already fact-checked the claim that the president handed out waivers to his friends. The law did lead to the granting of more than 1,000 waivers, but they weren’t issued to groups on the basis of being Obama’s friends or political allies.
Part of the law allowed for groups to apply for an exemption so that they can keep their cheap insurance plans, even though they don’t typically cover the "10 essential benefits" like maternity care and mental health care that Obamacare touts. These waivers expire on Jan. 1, 2014.
Some but not all of these groups could be considered Obama’s political allies, so using the term "friends" is at the very least misleading. Many unions, which typically lean Democratic, made the list. They make up about a third of the waivers.
But the recipients also include groups like the Baptist Retirement Homes of North Carolina, Pepsi and McDonald’s. The common denominator with most of those who received waivers seems to be low-wage workers. As far as we can tell, there’s no reason to think that "friendship" played a role, or that these companies are Obama’s political allies.
More than 100 groups, including several unions, were denied waivers. There’s also a sizable number of groups that were denied waivers, then were accepted the second time around.
Health and Human Services issues these waivers. Hagan and other legislators don't have a say. Hagan's spokeswoman told us the senator has never spoken out in favor of the practice.
Special treatment for Congress
PolitiFact has also looked at claims similar to Americans For Prosperity’s assertion that Congress gets "special treatment."
That implies that legislators and their staffs aren’t subject to the health care reform’s individual mandate when in fact they are. It’s more accurate to say that Congress is one of several special cases under the law.
However, this exception actually requires Congress to buy insurance on the marketplace instead of keeping employer-provided benefits from the federal government. Lawmakers still get a subsidy toward their policies. Without the subsidy, the change in coverage would have effectively been a pay cut of thousands of dollars per year.
In other words, the law singles out Congress and forces members off their employer-provided plan in favor of the marketplace options, even though all other Americans with employee-provided health coverage can keep it.
In defense of the ad, Americans for Prosperity wrote, "The ‘subsidy’ is not the problem. … Congress and its staff are enjoying an option not available to the rest of the nation." They cite the fact that businesses with more than 50 employees can’t yet access group plans on the Small Business Health Options Program, the marketplace the legislators will use. But this policy allows legislators to experience Obamacare's individual mandate alongside their constituents. We don't see a case that they're getting special treatment.
More than 1,000 companies have received Obamacare waivers, but there’s no evidence to suggest that those groups are all Obama’s "friends."
Meanwhile, Congress and their staffs do have to adhere to the reform’s individual mandate, and in a key way are treated worse than other Americans by the law, which is a curious definition of "special treatment."
We rate Americans For Prosperity’s claim False.
Americans for Prosperity, "Tell Kay Hagan #ExemptMeToo," Oct. 29, 2013
Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, "Annual limits waiver applicants receiving denial letters," Jan. 6, 2012
Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, "Self-insured employers: approved applications for waiver of the annual limits requirement," Jan. 6, 2012
Email interview with Adam Nicholson, Americans For Prosperity spokesman, Nov. 5, 2013
Email interview with Sadie Weiner, Kay Hagan’s spokeswoman, Nov. 6, 2013
Healthcare.gov, "What is the SHOP Marketplace?" accessed Nov. 6, 2013
PolitiFact, "Congress, criminals, Scientologists and other groups are exempt from Obamacare, claims Facebook post," Oct. 24, 2013
PolitiFact, "Rep. Mulvaney says Obama gave 1,100 special waivers to Obamacare to his friends," Oct. 18, 2013
PolitiFact, "Sen. Ted Cruz says Obama ‘just granted all of Congress an exception’ to Obamacare," Aug. 14, 2013
U.S. Senate, Roll call vote 211, Sept. 30, 2013
USA Today, "Democrats beginning to support Obamacare delays," Oct. 25, 2013
WRAL, "Fact check: AFP’s ‘just exempt me’ ad attacking Hagan," Oct. 29, 2013
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