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McDonald's exempted from health care reform mandate

Bloomberg Business News reports that almost one million workers won’t get a consumer protection in U.S. health law meant to cap insurance costs because the government exempted their employers.

Thirty companies and organizations, including McDonald’s (MCD) and Jack in the Box (JACK), won’t be required to raise the minimum annual benefit included in low-cost health plans, which are often used to cover part-time or low-wage employees, Bloomberg said.

The Department of Health and Human Services, which provided a list of exemptions, said it granted waivers in late September so workers with such plans wouldn’t lose coverage from employers who might choose instead to drop their health insurance altogether. Without the waivers, companies would have had to provide a minimum of $750,000 in coverage next year, increasing to $1.25 million in 2012, $2 million in 2013, and unlimited coverage in 2014, according to Bloomberg.

The Associated Press reported Sept. 30 that the new health care law could make it difficult for companies like McDonald’s to continue offering limited insurance coverage to their low-wage workers.

McDonald’s provides its hourly workers with low-cost plans known as “mini-meds” or limited benefits plans, typically cover things like doctor’s office visits and prescription drugs. But they don’t provide comprehensive coverage, and they often come with a cap on how much the insurer pays in annual benefits that is much lower than a major medical insurance plan.

Next year, the health care law passed by Congress will require insurers to pay minimum percentages of 80 percent and 85 percent of the premiums they collect toward medical care, figures that may be hard to meet for some of these limited plans.

On Thursday, McDonald’s denied a report that it’s considering dropping health care coverage for some employees because they won’t meet those limits, the Associated Press reported.

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