Joseph Hansen, president of the 1.3 million member United food and Commercial Workers, has an op-ed up in the Hill today in which he pleads with the White House to alter the Affordable Care Act – aka Obamacare — to keep it from undermining UFCW members’ insurance.
The basic problem is that most UFCW members have insurance plans that multiple employers pay into. These plans are organized as nonprofit entities. Unfortunately for these workers, Obamacare as it currently stands doesn’t extend any of its benefits, such as a subsidy for low-income people and their families, to these entities. But it does make the law’s penalties applicable to them.
This creates unstoppable incentives for employers to reduce weekly hours for workers currently on our plans and push them onto the exchanges where many will pay higher costs for poorer insurance with a more limited network of providers. In other words, they will be forced to change their coverage and quite possibly their doctor. Others will be channeled into Medicaid, where taxpayers must pick up the tab.
In addition, the ACA includes a fine for failing to cover full-time workers but includes no such penalty for part-timers (defined as working less than 30 hours a week). As a result, many employers are either reducing hours below 30 or discontinuing part-time health coverage altogether. This is a cut in pay and benefits workers simply cannot afford. For example, a worker making $10 an hour that has his or her schedule cut by six hours a week would lose $3,100 a year in income. With millions of workers impacted, this would have a devastating effect on our economy.
Beginning next year, states are required to have health insurance exchanges up and running to cover the growing uninsured population in this country.
The ACA offers a subsidy to lower-income individuals and families so they can afford to purchase this insurance. As many of our members fall into this category, we believe the subsidy can and should apply to nonprofit plans. All we want is equality — where our plans are treated the same as for-profit insurers.
The Obama administration has refused our request, citing legal hurdles. But since the treatment of Taft-Hartley plans is not fully described in the ACA, we believe the regulatory process is exactly the appropriate place to deem them qualified health plans eligible for subsidies. Any objective review of the evidence and reasonable definition of what our funds provide leads to this conclusion. (Emphasis added.)
This is an ironic development — to say the least — since UFCW under Hansen aggressively pushed the administration to pass health care reform. Back when the president signed Obamacare into law in 2010, the union issued a press release titled: “Food and Commercial Workers Laud Passage of Sweeping Health Care Reforms.” It said:
Today, the U.S. House of Representatives passed health care reforms that will better serve all Americans. Thanks to the commitment of President Obama and Democratic Members of Congress, we now have reform legislation that has eluded our nation’s grasp for a century.
This is an achievement that will rank among the highest in our national experience.
What happened? Well, the Hill, the newspaper has a smartly-reported piece giving further background on the situation:
“When [the Obama administration] started writing the rules and regulations, we just assumed that Taft-Hartley plans — that workers covered by those plans, especially low-wage workers — would be eligible for the subsidies and stay in their plans and they’re not,” Hansen said.
The article reports on a private may 8 meeting between Big Labor leaders and the Senate Democratic Steering and Outreach Committee where they vented their concerns. “I was pretty blunt about it,” said Hansen. “I told them it was a very serious issue … it’s going to have political repercussions if we don’t get this fixed.”
Union anger on multi-employer plans has been percolating for months. In January, The Wall Street Journal reported that UNITE HERE and the Teamsters were pressing the administration. UFCW was also mentioned in that report.
Asked why he decided to raise the volume on his worries about ObamaCare, Hansen said he needed to speak out in support of his members.
“I owe it to my members to do everything I can to see if we can make this law better,” Hansen said.
He added, “[Administration officials] have given us a lot of time and attention. We just don’t agree and I still think that I have taken the correct position. They have been responsive as far as trying to get the meetings. It’s just we can’t get it across the finish line and we need to do that.”
Hansen, however, said he has no regrets about endorsing Obama or supporting the healthcare reform law. UFCW is a major Democratic donor, contributing to several of the party’s candidates and giving to last year’s convention in Charlotte, N.C., and this year’s inauguration. (Emphasis added.)
I wonder what the UFCW rank and file thinks about that.