Discord over President Obama’s health care law is forging strange alliances, with top Republicans reaching out to union bosses who helped Democrats muscle the legislation through Congress three years ago but now say the reforms will “destroy the very health and well-being of our members.”
Presidents of three unions, including the powerful Teamsters, sent a letter this month accusing Democratic leaders of breaking promises.
The timing could not be worse for the White House, which is facing political heat — some of it from Democrats — for a self-imposed delay of the law’s employer mandate as the administration works around the clock to roll out state-based insurance markets by Oct. 1.
The unions’ complaints are twofold.
First, the law defines a full-time workweek as 30 hours, not 40. Critics point out that employers, in an effort to stay below that threshold to cut costs, have begun to cut workers’ hours.
Second, health plans administered jointly by unions and employers under the Taft-Hartley Act — a type of plan in which many union members participate — will not be eligible for government subsidies to offset premium costs. But those plans will be taxed to help pay for the subsidies to employees in for-profit plans.
Unions say the Obama administration could fix the problem through the regulatory process, but some critics say unions are looking for special treatment through subsidies in addition to employer-based insurance.
Either way, the unions are not pulling punches in trying to keep their health plans competitive.
“Right now, unless you and the Obama administration enact an equitable fix, the [Affordable Care Act] 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 bosses said in their scathing July 12 letter to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat.
The growing rift indicates that some of the law’s most ardent initial supporters increasingly feel left out in the cold.
“Nothing has really happened; they are just trying to get a better deal,” said Jon Gruber, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor and a key architect of health care reform in Massachusetts and the federal Affordable Care Act.
A spokesman for the Teamsters, Galen Munroe, said that the union would not comment on any aspect of the health care law.
Sen. John Barrasso, Wyoming Republican, said the situation will only get worse for the administration.
“When a couple unions come out this forcefully, you’re going to see more unions do the same,” he said.
They already have. The Laborers’ International Union of North America sent a letter Thursday to Mr. Obama warning that the law could impose “destructive consequences” on their health care plans, as reported by The Wall Street Journal.