Labor union leaders are complaining they are getting shortchanged by the Affordable Care Act, or "Obamacare." They are asking the White House to allow the health care exchange subsidies to be used for their worker's health care plans, which could dramatically increase the cost of the ACA.
In an op-ed for The Hill, Joseph Hansen, president of United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, claims that, unlike what President Barack Obama promised labor leaders during his 2008 campaign, many workers now represented by a labor union will lose their current health insurance when the new law goes into effect.
The problem, Hansen says, is the ACA will pass higher costs, without additional cost-saving benefits, onto the non-profit health care plans that their members have negotiated with their employers, thus encouraging the employers to drop the health coverage altogether. Their workers would then get health insurance through the health care exchanges, or through Medicaid, if they are eligible.
For labor unions to be treated fairly, he argues, they should get the same subsidies as those who get their health care in the new law's health care exchanges that will be set up in each state.
"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," he wrote.
Hansen goes on to argue that the change in the law he is requesting can, and should, be made through the executive branch, not Congress. Thus far, though, the White House has refused, "citing legal hurdles."
"We'd be open to a legislative fix, but ultimately this is the administration's responsibility. They are leading the regulatory process. It's their signature law," he said.
Hansen is not the first labor leader to complain about the impact the ACA will have on their member's health care plans.
The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union and the United Union of Roofers, Waterproofers and Allied Workers have both called for repeal or reform of the ACA, The Hill reported.
The subsidies to help low income workers to buy health insurance are paid for in the ACA through additional taxes on companies that provide health insurance, health care devices and prescription drugs.
Some economists are already estimating that the costs of the new law will be much higher than expected because more companies than expected will drop their health coverage altogether, thus putting more workers in the subsidized exchanges or government-run Medicaid. If labor's employer-provided non-profit plans are also subsidized, the costs of the ACA will rise even higher.
Labor unions are among the Democratic Party's most important supporters. In an interview with The Hill, though, Hansen warned that if the White House does not give labor unions what they want, they will withhold support in the 2014 election.
"What happens in 2014 could be at issue here. ... There is going to be a lot of disenchantment with how did this happen and who was in power when it happened. No matter what I say, that's going to be there," he said. "They are upset already and it hasn't even taken effect already."