In the early days of his presidency and even during his campaigning for the election, Obama’s primary goal was to get a comprehensive healthcare bill passed. Anyone in politics knew from the start that this would be no easy task. But who could have anticipated that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) would take over the policy discussion the way it has?
As it stands, there is no acceptable answer to some of the biggest questions that are being asked. Patients are concerned about whether they will be able to keep the doctor they may have had for decades or that their medical expenses will not be adequately covered. Doctors are struggling to stay within their existing insurance networks. And not only is the website for enrollment not working, but Obama’s biggest supporters, along with most of the nation, have recently started to turn against him. Instead of addressing the needs of the many, the Administration has decided to cater to the needs of the few: labor unions.
According to a recent poll, disapproval of the way Obama has handled the Affordable Care Act implementation has hit 63 percent, up a full ten percent from where it stood last month. Included among those who now criticize the ACA are some of Obama’s strongest allies, labor unions.
At its convention in September, the AFL-CIO adopted several resolutions, including eliminating the reinsurance fee and receiving tax credits for low-income members. This would apply to many of its members who are on Taft-Hartley union insurance plans.
In response, “the Treasury Department has crafted a letter explaining how it ‘does not see a legal way’ for Taft-Hartley plan-holders to receive tax credits from the Affordable Care Act marketplace,” according to The Huffington Post.
But what about the reinsurance fee?
Twenty-one Senate Republicans, including Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) signed a letter urging the Administration to avoid working on any regulation that would exempt labor from the fee.
According to Alexander Bolton, these Senators cautioned, “the administration should not exempt unions without also exempting for-profit companies, charities and faith-based organizations.”
Despite this warning, the Department of Health and Human Services released a final rule earlier this month that intends to exempt some union insurance plans from this fee.
In addition, the Administration also filed an aside in a Federal Register document earlier this month stating, “We also intend to propose in future rulemaking to exempt certain self-insured, self-administered plans from the requirement to make reinsurance contributions for the 2015 and 2016 benefit years.”
These “self-insured, self-administered plans” include the Taft-Hartley plans that many union members use, under which their business pays for the medical expenses of its workers (self-insured) and don’t contract with outside insurance companies (self-administered). In other words, the Administration is planning on exempting these plan-holders from the reinsurance fee in 2015 and in 2016.
The intention to waive this fee in order to satisfy some of the President’s biggest allies—and now toughest critics—seriously undermines the ACA, not that it needs any more help in that area. If the Treasury Department has already stated that there is no legal way for union insurance plans to receive tax credits, then DHHS should rethink the legality of this tax waiver not just for the upcoming year, but for the next couple of years as well.
The Administration should ask itself the same questions that conservatives have been pushing since the AFL-CIO resolution passed in September: why should unions be exempt from paying a tax when other organizations and companies are being forced to abide by the law? The $63 per-head tax in 2014 may seem like a small figure, but it will cost some of these larger organizations, labor unions included, millions of dollars.
Labor unions fervently supported the ACA and were major players in getting the law passed in 2010, so if anyone should be forced to pay these taxes it should be them. After all, they asked for it.
- Labor might have just gotten a pass on an Obamacare fee (washingtonpost.com)