Health reform implementation

Labor presses for ObamaCare fix

LOS ANGELES — Union officials are pushing to raise the volume of their ObamaCare angst at the AFL-CIO convention.

{mosads}The labor federation has been having internal deliberations in Los Angeles on how to best draft a resolution addressing unions’ concerns over President Obama’s signature legislative accomplishment. Some senior union officials want to shed more light on the issue as labor presses the White House to fix the law.

“We think we ought to have the conversation about ObamaCare here. If not here, where? If not now, when?” Terry O’Sullivan, president of the Laborers’ International Union of North America (LIUNA), told The Hill.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka told reporters on Sunday that he expected the labor federation would consider a healthcare resolution.

“I think we will probably talk about healthcare at this convention, yeah. I think it will talk about all facets and our concerns. I think it will,” Trumka said.

Smaller AFL-CIO affiliates have passed resolutions that have spoken out against the law. Last month, the Nevada AFL-CIO passed a resolution urging Congress and the Obama administration to fix ObamaCare.

Labor’s biggest concern with the healthcare reform law is its impact on union members’ health plans, known as multi-employer or Taft-Hartley plans. Unions want these plans to be considered as qualified health plans and, thus, eligible for tax subsidies. But under the administration’s interpretation, the plans are not eligible for those subsidies.

That could hurt the multi-employer plans, as it may lead employers to drop those plans and force workers onto the new insurance exchanges, created by ObamaCare, with open enrollment beginning on Oct. 1.

“We need to talk about its potentially devastating effect on multi-employer health and welfare plans. We ought to have that debate,” said O’Sullivan with LIUNA.

Labor has grown more frustrated as other interests have lobbied for and won their ObamaCare fixes, such as business groups, congressional staff and lawmakers as well as religious organizations.

Over the past year, major unions like the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Unite Here, the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union and the Teamsters have voiced their frustration publicly about ObamaCare.

Last month, Trumka said the law was a step in the right direction, but “mistakes” were made in its crafting. He said the AFL-CIO has been working with the administration to improve ObamaCare.

Unions have also taken issue with the act’s “reinsurance” program to help early retirees, funded by contributions from healthcare plans, and its potential effect on workers’ hours. Employers have to provide healthcare coverage to workers who work 30 hours or more a week under ObamaCare, which could incentivize companies to cut back on their employees’ hours.

In Los Angeles, union officials remained concerned about the law and are waiting on the administration to offer up its fix.

“We are concerned. We are waiting to see what they come up with,” said George Galis, secretary-treasurer of the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades (IUPAT). “Right now, it’s a wait-and-see.”

Most IUPAT members use Taft-Hartley plans, according to Galis.

Obama won’t have a chance to address labor’s ObamaCare concerns face to face.

The president was originally scheduled to speak to the labor convention on Monday. But Obama will deliver a video message instead, staying in Washington to garner support for a military strike on Syria.

“The first reason that he [Obama] probably committed to speak was to touch on the controversies within the labor movement about ObamaCare,” said Dorian Warren, a Columbia University professor who specializes in labor politics. “I think he would have tried to do what former President Clinton did the other day, which is clearly explain what the act is. He would have tried to explain how it could help them in labor and not hurt their hard-earned benefits.”

Voicing concerns about the law’s impact on Taft-Hartley plans, California Assembly Speaker John Pérez (D) said he believes President Obama needs to work on fixing ObamaCare.

“I don’t care if he [Obama] addresses it in the message. I care if he addresses it in a solution,” Pérez said.

Pérez is a former political director for the United Food & Commercial Workers Local 324.

The administration is aware of union concerns over the healthcare law. Valerie Jarrett, one of Obama’s closest aides, told union officials on Sunday that she had been speaking with Trumka about the Affordable Care Act.

“Though there are challenges that remain, and Rich and I were just talking about some of those challenges. We intend to work to solve those problems big and small, and we are committed to sitting down in good faith and working on solutions,” Jarrett said.

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