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Policy: Labor

Republicans think Labor Department has secret Obamacare 'fix' for unions

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Beltway Confidential,Sean Higgins,Labor unions,Labor,Health Care,Thomas Perez

Two Republican House lawmakers asked the Labor Department to provide "all legal analyses" it has done on a proposed Obamacare "fix" sought by Big Labor.

The lawmakers think the administration is secretly working on a such a fix but trying to keep it hidden from the public.

In a letter Wednesday to Labor Secretary Thomas Perez, House Education and the Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline, R-Minn., and Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tenn., said their request was prompted by the mysterious disappearance of a posting on the Office of Management and Budget's website saying it had received DOL's proposed rule on the issue.

[T]he Office of Management and Budget's regulatory review website said Aug. 24, 2013, that it received the DOL proposal, "Health Insurance Premium Assistance Trust Supporting the Purchase of Certain Individual Health Insurance Policies Exclusion from Definition of Employee Welfare Benefit Plan" (RIN 1210-AB57). This proposed rule was then removed from OMB's website. Repeated attempts by Education and the Workforce Committee staff to obtain information about the proposed rule were rebuffed by DOL.

Republicans suggest the name of the proposed rule indicates it was related to allowing people in multi-employer health insurance plans — also known as "Taft-Hartley plans" — to obtain federal subsidies for their plans.

Many unions provide these plans to their members and Big Labor has aggressively pushed the administration to extend subsidies to them.

A source on the committee cautioned that they only really have the name of the proposed rule to go on. The text or even a summary is not available. Still, the source characterized the rule's abrupt disappearance as "suspicious."

At press time, the Labor Department and the OMB had not responded to a request for comment from the Washington Examiner.

Unions fear that without the subsidies, employers will pull out of the plans, limit coverage or provide workers with fewer hours so as to not fall under the law's 30-hour a week threshold for an employee to be considered full-time.

Unions leaders are so worried about the impact of Obamacare on Taft-Hartley plans they passed a resolution at their convention last week demanding changes to the law.

President Obama has resisted doing this. One estimate says the action would balloon Obamacare's costs by $187 billion over a decade. As recently as Friday, administration officials, including Perez, meet with union leaders on the subject. The same day, the Treasury Department put out a statement that multi-employer plans do not qualify for the subsidies.

Kline and Roe's letter requests not just any legal analyses but also any related documents and communications as well as any documents related to the briefly posted and then redacted rule.

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Sean Higgins

Senior Writer
The Washington Examiner