Here’s an Obamacare wrinkle that may have slipped past your radar: Under a little-known program enacted under the 2010 health law, the federal government has provided millions of taxpayer dollars to state government agencies and private companies to subsidize health insurance coverage for employees who have retired early, but are too young to enroll in Medicare.
Arkansas angle: The temporary program, known as the Early Retirement Reinsurance Program (ERRP), has supplied more than $1.5 million thus far to Arkansas government and to private companies like Tyson and Murphy Oil, with more to come.
The program is supposed to fill that coverage gap by encouraging employers to extend coverage for this group of people until a provision in the the health law kicks in that would ban insurers from denying coverage for pre-existing health conditions.
Critics, however, call it an unnecessary bailout for local governments or a corporate “slush fund,” particularly for the large Fortune 500 companies that are benefiting.
Companies and government entities that apply don’t have to demonstrate a financial need to receive funding.”It’s very much a big-business subsidy,” says Heritage Foundation health care honcho Ed Haislmaier in the Cincinatti.com piece. “There are a lot more people out there who don’t get this who will resent it, and they should.”
Here’s the list of Arkansas participants and their total received under the ERRP, as of June 10, 2011:
- Arkansas Blue Cross Blue Shield $64,386.78
- Arkansas Conference of the United Methodist Church $10,946.88
- Arkansas Municipal League $175,419.08
- Arkansas State Police $252,581.99
- Murphy Oil Corporation $139,157.06
- State of Ark., Dept. of Finance and Admin., Employee Benefits Division $718,101.05
- Tyson Foods, Inc. $222,338.42
And here are additional Arkansas entities that have been approved to participate in the program, according to the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services:
- Arkansas State University
- Baldor Electric Company
- Central Arkansas Library System
- Central Arkansas Water
- City of Little Rock
- John Brown University
- MCR Legal Services, Inc.
- University of Arkansas
As you’ll see from that list, non-profits and religious entities are also eligible for the program.
If you’re interested in getting in on the action, you may be too late: Though the program was funded at $5 billion and was intended to run through January 2014, the feds stopped accepting applications in May because the funding was already half depleted due to heavy demand. It could be completely out of money by next year, two years ahead of schedule, unless Congress OK’s more funding.
Let’s leave it with a pertinent response from Nick Gillespie at Reason Magazine:
In a world where most of us will be working for more years than we ever expected, is there any group in America less sympathetic than early retirees? Yes, there is: That golden subset of early retirees who get part of their cashout covered by taxpayers for no good goddamn reason. We’re talking a three-year gap here before the even more idiotic and overreaching aspects of Obamacare kicks in. Folks who choose early retirement in this interstice should either suck up the insurance costs on their lonesome or grind out a few more years of work.