ACA’s Surprising New Dissenters: Unions

You probably heard about the joint letter sent by three sizeable unions — the Teamsters, UNITE-Stethoscope on money backgroundHERE and the United Food and Commercial Workers — to Democratic congressional leaders earlier this month blasting the very same healthcare-reform plan they once lauded.

But in case you missed it, here it is. It’s pretty scathing. It also ushers in a compelling development I know I’ll be watching closely as the Affordable Care Act works its way into the fabric of the American workforce.

The main gripe — directed to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Minority House Leader Nancy Pelosi by Teamsters President James P. Hoffa, UFCW International President Joseph Hansen and UNITE-HERE President Donald “D” Taylor — is that no one on Capitol Hill seems to be listening to the unions’ fears that the massive reform bill could put an end to nonprofit health-insurance plans “like the ones in which most of our members participate,” as the letter states. The fears are spelled out pretty succinctly and the words are pretty damning:

When you and the president sought our support for the Affordable Care Act, you pledged that if we liked the health plans we have now, we could keep them. Sadly, that promise is under threat. Right now, unless you and the Obama administration enact an equitable fix, the ACA will shatter not only our hard-earned health benefits, but destroy the foundation of the 40-hour work week that is the backbone of the American middle class.

Like millions of other Americans, our members are front-line workers in the American economy. We have been strong supporters of the notion that all Americans should have access to quality, affordable healthcare. We have also been strong supporters of you. In campaign after campaign, we have put boots on the ground, gone door-to-door to get out the vote, run phone banks and raised money to secure this vision.

Now this vision has come back to haunt us.

Since the ACA was enacted, we have been bringing our deep concerns to the administration, seeking reasonable regulatory interpretations to the statute that would help prevent the destruction of nonprofit health plans. As you both know first-hand, our persuasive arguments have been disregarded and met with a stone wall by the White House and the pertinent agencies. This is especially stinging because other stakeholders have repeatedly received successful interpretations for their respective grievances. Most disconcerting of course is last week’s huge accommodation for the employer community—extending the statutorily mandated “December 31, 2013” deadline for the employer mandate and penalties.

Time is running out: Congress wrote this law; we voted for you. We have a problem; you need to fix it. The unintended consequences of the ACA are severe.”

The letter also details what it calls “perverse incentives … already creating nightmare scenarios”:

First, the law creates an incentive for employers to keep employees’ work hours below 30 hours a week. Numerous employers have begun to cut workers’ hours to avoid this obligation, and many of them are doing so openly. The impact is two-fold: Fewer hours means less pay while also losing our current health benefits.

Second, millions of Americans are covered by nonprofit health-insurance plans [that are] governed jointly by unions and companies under the Taft-Hartley Act. Our health plans have been built over decades by working men and women. Under the ACA as interpreted by the administration, our employees will be treated differently and not be eligible for subsidies afforded other citizens. As such, many employees will be relegated to second-class status and shut out of the help the law offers to for-profit insurance plans.

And finally, even though nonprofit plans like ours won’t receive the same subsidies as for-profit plans, they’ll be taxed to pay for those subsidies. Taken together, these restrictions will make nonprofit plans like ours unsustainable, and will undermine the healthcare market of viable alternatives to the big health-insurance companies.”

Just when I thought I had this country’s political soldiers figured out … just when I thought unions’ Democratic alliances could never be budged and I knew — at least for the most part — who had who’s back, here comes this new boulder, gaining steam down the healthcare-reform mountain that everyone’s desperately trying to climb.

Definitely worth watching.