By Kevin Bogardus - 10/18/09 04:43 PM EDT
The healthcare negotiator for one of nation’s most powerful unions made
clear that it opposes a tax on high-cost-insurance plans, despite
abstaining from an multi-union campaign objecting to the plan.
The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) was not among the 27 unions to sign on to an ad criticizing a proposed tax on “Cadillac” insurance plans that was included in the Senate Finance Committee healthcare bill.
“Every group has to determine their own strategy and tactics,” Rivera said. “We believe by expressing directly how we feel to the principals is the best way to do that. We don’t have a substantial disagreement with their point of view but we chose to communicate our views privately.”
A labor-backed ad that ran in several newspapers, including in The Hill, on Oct. 14 took issue with the bill that was approved by the Finance panel one day earlier. Notably, it opposed the planned tax on high-cost insurance plans, calling it “a new tax on middle class benefits.”
The ad was signed by the AFL-CIO, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, and the United Steelworkers, among others. SEIU was not among the signatories though.
Though his union was not a party to the ad, Rivera said SEIU is opposed and not open to the proposed tax. He rejected the contention that his healthcare group’s 1.2 million members would not be affected by the tax since some have no or low-cost healthcare insurance.
“We have pockets of members of our union who are in the same situation as other unions,” Rivera.
Unions adamantly oppose the tax because it could affect many of their members. Several have high-cost insurance plans because they either work in dangerous professions requiring more and costlier coverage or they have negotiated for better benefits with their employers.
In the Senate Finance Committee bill, a 40 percent tax would be levied on portions of health insurance plans above $8,000 for an individual and $21,000 for a family plan. The plan would generate more than $200 billion in revenue over 10 years, according to the Joint Committee on Taxation.
Proponents of the tax say it would force insurance companies to bring down the costs of their plans. But critics warn the new tax burden could be passed onto the consumer and increase the price of health insurance.
Several lawmakers are supporting the unions in wanting to pare the tax down.
Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) is expected to offer an amendment on the Senate floor to scale the proposal back when healthcare legislation comes up for debate. In addition, 177 House Democrats have signed a Dear Colleague letter written by Rep. Joe Courtney (D-Conn.) to Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), which seeks to reject including the tax in the final healthcare bill.
With committee work now complete in both chambers, Rivera was confident legislation would pass Congress. The SEIU official also predicted a government-run healthcare plan, the public option, would be included in the final bill.
“I believe we have an excellent opportunity of having a government plan that can bring down the costs of insurance in the country,” Rivera said. “It is going to be in the bill.”