When the administration of President Obama came to office in 2009, his arrival put Democrats, who also ran of both houses of Congress, in total control of the federal government. With this unchecked majority, work quickly began on the so-called Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), despite considerable public opposition to the bill that has persisted since then.
To pass the controversial proposal, the administration enlisted the support of its traditional allies, chief among them organized labor. Now, it turns out, some of those unions are less than happy about how the law they helped foist on everyone else will affect them.
During the year-long debate over the ACA, labor leaders sided squarely with the massive government expansion into the health care market. Indeed, the president of the AFL-CIO said his federation would “put our strong, active support behind the president’s health care bill,” and the SEIU’s Change that Works campaign “mobilized thousands of people across 35 states to keep the pressure on lawmakers to keep their campaign promises to reform our healthcare system.”
All of that support, however, was for a bill that few people, including members of Congress, had actually read. In fact, in the lead up to its ultimate passage, Nancy Pelosi infamously said, “we have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it.” None of that seemed to matter to union leaders, who apparently took the President at his word when he promised not once, but twice that “nothing in this plan will require you to change your coverage or your doctor.”
Given labor’s unquestioning support for the ACA, some observers have been surprised by recent reports that unions were breaking ranks and calling for its repeal. Their concern stems from the fact that the law does not provide subsidies for so called multi-employer healthcare plans, which unions commonly count as one of the key benefits to their members in unionized workplaces.
Without the subsidies, unions fear that employers will have little incentive to continue with these plans because the law will make them even more expensive than they already are. Instead, employers could drop the insurance plans altogether and allow their employees to purchase individual plans in the ACA-established insurance exchanges.
That prospect has caused disenchantment among unions such as the United Food and Commercial Workers, the president of which said that this newly-understood fact means that “you can’t have the same quality healthcare that you had before, despite what the President said.”
The president of the International Association of Firefighters added: “it started out with some anxiety, and I think it’s translated into more anger.”
Going even further, Kinsey Robinson, president of the United Union of Roofers, Waterproofers and Allied Workers, actually used the “R” word and called for “repeal or complete reform of the Affordable Care Act.” With a brush of unintended irony, Robinson added: “In the rush to achieve its passage, many of the act’s provisions were not fully conceived, resulting in unintended consequences that are inconsistent with the promise that those who were satisfied with their employer-sponsored coverage could keep it.”
It seems like just yesterday that unions were celebrating the ACA’s third anniversary, saying it “extends to millions more families who will finally have access to better, more affordable, quality healthcare.” Now that they are actually finding out “what is in it,” in the words of the former Speaker, union leaders may wish to re-cork the champagne.