Unions Are Rethinking Their Support for the Affordable Care Act

Now that it's becoming clear the ACA is a train wreck, some of the president's staunchest allies are openly calling for repeal of the law.

Another week, another major blow to President Obama’s Affordable Care Act. Last week it was the revelation that bureaucratic bungling and the administration’s ineptitude will result in the employer mandate being postponed for at least a year. This week brings more news that major players in one of the president’s key constituencies — the unions – are having second thoughts about supporting the ACA, with several going public with their concerns and misgivings and openly calling for major reforms or even full repeal of the law.

The heads of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW), and UNITE HERE (a hotel workers’ union) recently sent a letter to Democratic leadership in Congress warning that unless they and the 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.” The letter listed several unintended “perverse incentives” inherent in the ACA, including an incentive for employers to keep employees’ work hours below 30 hours a week in order for the employer to avoid paying a penalty for not offering health insurance to full-time employees. The letter also expressed serious concern over the fact that employees who currently receive their insurance through non-profit health insurance plans (known as Taft-Hartley plans or multi-employer plans) will not be eligible for tax subsidies to help pay for insurance (though, as the letter points out, these plans will be taxed to help pay for other peoples’ subsidies). The unions claim that these and other restrictions will “make non-profit plans like ours unsustainable, and will undermine the health-care market of viable alternatives to the big health insurance companies.”

The administration’s own analysis confirms that the ACA does not provide tax subsidies for the millions of people covered by these plans. Because of this, union officials are worried their members will be forced to change their insurance and accept “more expensive and perhaps worse coverage in the state-run exchanges.”

Even some public sector unions are beginning to take notice of these flaws in the ACA and are urging their members to contact their Congressional representatives and let them know they are unhappy about proposed legislation that will force them to enroll in the ACA’s health exchanges. The National Treasury Employees Union (which represents about 150,000 federal employees, including the IRS) has created a form letter its members can send to their representatives that states members are “very concerned” about recently proposed legislation that will “push federal employees out of the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program (FEHBP) and into the insurance exchanges established under the Affordable Care Act (ACA).”

The NTEU letter notes that this legislation “would treat federal employees differently from state and local government employees and most employees of large private sector companies who receive health insurance benefits through their employer.” The NTEU letter reminds legislators that “the primary purpose of the Affordable Care Act was to provide a marketplace for the sale and purchase of health insurance for those who do not have such coverage — not to take coverage away from employees who already receive it through their employers.”

More and more unions are waking up to the fact that they were duped. The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) released a statement calling on the president to live up to the promises he made when he was pushing unions to support the ACA and “move now to guarantee that his signature law will not cost [IBEW members] their coverage.” Kinsey Robinson, president of the United Union of Roofers, Waterproofers and Allied Workers International, has gone a step further and called for “repeal or complete reform of President Obama’s Affordable Care Act.”

It appears that President Obama’s infamous claim that “If you have insurance that you like, then you will be able to keep that insurance” is being exposed for the lie that many observers always knew it to be.

When even the unions are conceding that the ACA will hurt working-class Americans by forcing more of them into part-time employment and forcing them to give up their current health insurance, it’s time for the president and his supporters in Congress to admit this law is unfair and unworkable and replace it with bipartisan, common-sense reforms that address the issues of the uninsured without disrupting the lives of those who are happy with their current insurance.