January 29, 2014, 02:33 pm
By Kevin Bogardus
Leaders of major labor unions say they are “bitterly disappointed” with the regulatory changes made to ObamaCare, arguing they do little to help workers who are suffering under the law.
In a letter dated Monday, leaders of major unions told Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) that proposed regulations for the Affordable Care Act (ACA) would do nothing to help union health plans.
They said the administration has failed to address their concerns about worker health plans, and the healthcare law threatens to lower living standards for the working class.
“It would be a sad irony if the signature legislative accomplishment of an administration committed to reducing income inequality cut living standards for middle income and low wage workers,” the labor leaders wrote.
O’Sullivan and Taylor suggested that Labor Secretary Thomas Perez, in a recent letter to some lawmakers, might have misled lawmakers to believe that the new rules have addressed unions’ concerns about the healthcare law.
“That letter has been construed by some to suggest that the very serious concerns of ‘Taft-Hartley’ multi-employer health and welfare trust funds and other non-profit self-funded plans with the ACA has been addressed,” Taylor and O’Sullivan said in the letter. “This is simply not true regardless of the secretary’s good intentions.”
A Labor Department spokesman noted that the regulations in question are open for comment and said the department welcomes input from the public.
Unions have been clashing with the administration for months over the healthcare law’s impact on multi-employer health plans, which by some estimates, are held by roughly 20 million people.
The administration decided that the healthcare law does not provide tax subsidies for the Taft-Hartley plans. But union officials argue that interpretation could force their members to lose their insurance plans, which are nonprofit and thus receive a tax break, and be forced to buy more expensive coverage in the state-run exchanges.
In addition, unions have bristled at several of the law’s taxes and fees on their members’ health plans, including a reinsurance fee that will tax health plans from 2014-2016 to help stabilize the individual market as more sick patients come on board.
Other unions, such as the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and the Teamsters, have also spoken out against ObamaCare.
Many unions threw their full weight behind the reform law when it first passed in 2010. Since then, labor leaders have tried to work with the White House on shaping the ACA but to no avail.
“Once we realized the ACA would not let us keep the health care we had, we spent three years presenting the administration with reasonable fixes to the ACA’s problems. All of them were rejected and the proposed regulations offer virtually no assistance toward any of these solutions,” said the union leaders in their letter.
The dispute over ObamaCare has created a rift between the White House and unions, the Democrats’ traditional political allies.
In September, the AFL-CIO passed a harshly worded resolution at its convention in Los Angeles that criticized several aspects of ObamaCare. That measure was fiercely debated by labor leaders and was passed despite an effort by the White House to stop it in its tracks.
In October, the administration proposed regulations that could waive the reinsurance fee for self-administered health plans in 2015 and 2016, though not 2014.
Republicans attacked the new rules as a “bailout” for the administration’s political allies. GOP lawmakers have also touted union complaints, as they have worked to roll back the healthcare law.
Business groups have problems with the law as well and have lobbied against the reinsurance fee. Last year, a loose coalition of industry associations and labor unions, including LIUNA and Unite Here, formed to support legislation that would end the fee.
— This story was updated at 6:28 p.m.