Thune Questions Burwell About Obamacare Exemptions for Unions

Sen. John Thune (R., S.D.) questioned Health and Human Services Secretary nominee Sylvia Burwell Wednesday about the Obama administration's call on exempting specific union plans from Obamacare's reinsurance tax.

Burwell is the current White House director of the Office of Management and Budget.

"I’m simply saying is that as a matter of fairness in the way that this is implemented, carving out favored groups shouldn’t be the modus operandi," Thune said. "We ought to be going about this in a way that treats everybody fairly under the law, and I don't think you can argue based on the number of exemptions, the number of carve-outs, the number of delays that have been issued already, that that's the case. This particular one was a rule that was issued by OMB under your direction."

Thune's point was that other self-insured plans would have to pay that instead, quoting HHS officials who said it's true that the fee will be higher for those who don't have to pay the fee in 2015 because some are exempted.

"Is that an accurate statement that others are going to have to pay a higher tax, the re-insurance tax, that's paid for by self-administered plans because groups like unions got carved out?" he asked.

Burwell said while that did apply to some unions, it applied to other groups as well.

"The question is really a very simple one," Thune said. "If there are groups exempted from that reinsurance tax, does that mean that those subject to the tax are going to have to pay higher taxes?"

Burwell didn't give a direct answer, frustrating Thune. Since the tax is meant to raise a finite amount of revenue and the pool of those paying the tax would shrink under the exemption, the taxes would naturally increase for those remaining.

"That's simple math," Thune said. "I think the answer is yes, and I'd like to hear you say yes."