WASHINGTON (AP) - President Barack Obama's health care law created a $5 billion fund to shore up coverage for early retirees, and some of that money is flowing to places you might not expect.
Two Texas public employee programs are among the top 25 recipients of the federal subsidy despite Texas Gov. Rick Perry's opposition to the law Republicans derisively call "Obamacare."
And records show the Huntsman family business, where GOP presidential candidate Jon Huntsman sharpened his executive skills, received about $1 million.
It highlights the gap between dire Republican rhetoric about the health care overhaul and the pragmatic impulse to cash in on a new government benefit.
Employer-sponsored health insurance for retirees has been shriveling for years, ever since companies were required to report the estimated liability to investors. Democrats who wrote the new law wanted to provide an incentive for employers to keep offering coverage. Only about 6 percent of private companies currently offer such a benefit for early retirees, according to the nonpartisan Employee Benefit Research Institute.
But that still works out to more than 400,000 companies. Add state and local government agencies, as well as union plans, and the number swells. Indeed, the Obama administration's subsidy program got so many applications it stopped accepting new ones after approving more than 6,000. The program pays 80 percent of the claims amount for early retirees ages 55 to 64 whose care costs between $15,000 and $90,000.
The top beneficiary: the United Auto Workers retiree medical plan, which has collected more than $220 million.
"Some people have described this program as 'Cash for Clunkers,' in the sense that if you want it, you have to get in line first," said Paul Fronstin, an economist with the research group. "There was a lot of advice given to be first in line." The original Cash for Clunkers was an Obama administration program that paid people to trade in gas guzzlers for more fuel-efficient transportation. It created a marketing sensation before running out of cash.
Texas, it seems, heeded the advice. So did Huntsman International.