Restaurants seek ‘mini-med’ plan waivers

Bloomberg News / October 1, 2010

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WASHINGTON — Restaurants have asked the federal government to waive health care overhaul rules that may force companies to abandon low-cost “mini-med’’ plans that insure 1.4 million minimum-wage and parttime employees.

Cigna Corp., the Philadelphia-based health insurer, has also asked for a waiver on behalf of its “limited-benefit’’ customers, and expects to hear back soon from federal officials, a spokeswoman, Gloria Barone Rosario, said in an e-mail. She declined to name the clients involved.

McDonald’s Corp., the world’s largest restaurant chain, said it may be forced to seek alternative plans to cover 30,000 workers if it can’t get a waiver.

The companies are seeking exemptions from two health-law mandates. One requires plans to spend at least 80 percent of member premiums on medical care. The other bans companies from capping yearly coverage for each worker. Mini-med programs are designed to offer a low-cost way to give part-timers limited benefits.

Without waivers, “mini-med plans would either no longer be offered or lead to a significant increase in premiums,’’ the National Restaurant Association wrote in an Aug. 27 letter.

Jessica Santillo, spokeswoman for the Department of Health and Human Services, declined to comment on waiver requests.

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