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Obamacare’s Latest Opposition: Unions

4 min read

The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers has signed on in the fight against the Affordable Care Act, noting that the legislation threatens to be unaffordable and remove access to actual care as they know it. In a white paper, the IBEW claimed that the Affordable Care Act would “harm our members by dismantling multiemployer health plans.”  In a full-page ad in Roll Call, the union called on the president to keep his promise that those who liked their health care plans would be able to keep their health care plans.

This follows on the heels of United Food and Commercial Workers president Joseph Hansen’s May 2013 column in The Hill, where he said the claim that workers could keep their existing coverage under the ACA was “simply not true.” International Brotherhood of Teamsters general secretary-treasurer Ken Hall characterized the specific provisions of Obamacare as “not acceptable” back in January, with the United Union of Roofers, Waterproofers, and Allied Workers actually calling for the repeal of the ACA.

Then there are the companies who supported the ACA, only to turn around and take steps to thwart its requirements. One of those companies is Wal-Mart, whose CEO and President Mike Duke signed on to a letter supporting an employer mandate, and guaranteed cost containment.  The other signatories were notable: John Podesta of the Center for American Progress, and Andy Stern of the SEIU.

What did Wal-Mart then do? They changed the rules for full-time and part-time employees hired after February 1, 2012,  and January 15, 2011, respectively, so that those workers would face an “Annual Benefits Eligibility Check” each August.  If the full-time employees failed to average 30 hours a week, they’d lose their healthcare benefits in January.  The part-time workers will lose their benefits if they don’t work at least 24 hours a week.  Since Wal-Mart determines scheduling, you can guess where this is headed: those workers, low-pay and all, are headed into the exchanges, where taxpayers will pick up the cost of subsidizing their healthcare coverage.

Of course, Wal-Mart isn’t alone in seeking to foist their employees onto the exchanges, where taxpayers will pick up the tab for the subsidies.  Unions are attempting to do the same thing.  From Forbes’ Rick Ungar:

Unhappy that important improvements in insurance benefits resulting from the healthcare reform law will now cost employers with union workers a bit more—improvements such as no longer permitting insurance policies to place the yearly and lifetime caps on benefits that leave beneficiaries high, dry and broke should they suffer a serious and expensive illness—some labor unions are now asking the government to change the rules to allow low-earning union workers access to the government subsidies so that their employers will not be disadvantaged when competing with companies who have non-union employees.

If  you can get the same health coverage through the exchanges that you’d get through a union, why would you need to pay union dues?  The unions aren’t all looking to repeal the ACA, they simply want exceptions made in the existing law for their specific concerns.  Those exceptions will doubtless cause the ACA to cost more than advertised upon its passage, and given the Obama Administration’s tendency to rule by fiat, it’s not out of the question that an administrative law rewrite of the ACA would be used to give the unions the concessions they seek.

The ACA is also faced with rather ingenious adoptions by insurers such as Aetna, who recognized that by shifting their annual renewals to an off-cycle month like September 1, 2013-December 1, 2013, their clients could delay the implementation of Obamacare and keep their benefits and rates steady for an additional year beyond the effective date of January 1, 2014. Of course, this would mean that pre-existing conditions and premium limitations would stay in effect for another year, and below minimum coverage requirements would stay in place as well.

The train wreck continues to develop, with the employer mandate delayed a year even though the Obama Administration lacks statutory authority to delay the effective date of the ACA.  Even if the Obama Administration didn’t delay the employer mandate by a year, the 0ff cycle renewal strategy of insurers like Aetna likely would have delayed the mandate.

Republicans are touting everything from lawsuits to the idea of filing criminal charges against President Obama, but in the end, the likely outcome is more litigation, more unilateral efforts by the White House to tweak the law and delay or alter its provisions through administrative law or regulations, and continued gridlock.  Still, with unions beginning to line up against the ACA and Obamacare, we could be seeing the development of an unusual coalition of business and labor groups advocating for the repeal or reconstruction of healthcare reform.