Monday, November 11, 2013

Republicans open their arms for Unions to join them: Unions and Republicans are finding Common Ground Against Obamacare

October 31st, 2013
Washington (CNN) - Senate Democrats voted unanimously three years ago to support the Obamacare rule that is largely responsible for some of the health insurance cancellation letters that are going out.
In September 2010, Senate Republicans brought a resolution to the floor to block implementation of the grandfather rule, warning that it would result in canceled policies and violate President Barack Obama’s promise that people could keep their insurance if they liked it.

The District of Columbia is an island surrounded by reality. Only in the District of Columbia could you get away with telling the people if you like what you have you can keep it, and then pass regulations six months later that do just the opposite and figure that people are going to ignore it. But common sense is eventually going to prevail in this town and common sense is going to have to prevail on this piece of legislation as well,” Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley said at the time.

“The administration's own regulations prove this is not the case. Under the grandfathering regulation, according to the White House's own economic impact analysis, as many as 69 percent of businesses will lose their grandfathered status by 2013 and be forced to buy government-approved plans,” the Iowa Republican said.

On a party line vote, Democrats killed the resolution, which could come back to haunt vulnerable Democrats up for re-election this year.

Senate Democrats like Mary Landrieu, Jeanne Shaheen, Mark Pryor, Kay Hagan and Mark Begich – all of whom voted against stopping the rule from going into effect and have since supported delaying parts of Obamacare.

The rule set up the criteria for what insurance plans would be grandfathered, or exempted, from the new Obamacare requirements. Democrats argued then that the rule was necessary to insure that insurance companies weren’t able to drastically change their plans and still remain exempt from Obamacare.

Republicans are “saying that basically we will grandfather it in, but the insurance companies can change it however they want, and you are stuck with it,” Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa said in 2010.

The rule essentially prevents insurance companies from keeping their grandfathered status if they make changes to their plans. In practice, insurance companies are loath to leave their plans unchanged so grandfathered plans are disappearing, and people are being forced to change their plans to meet Obamacare’s more robust coverage requirements.
Hatch to Unions: Join GOP in Calling for Health Law Delay.By Kris Maher -- Washington WirePolitical Insight and Analysis From The Wall Street Journal's Capital Bureau Search Washington Wire1
July 18, 2013
The Affordable Care Act is upsetting some political alliances and inspiring a flurry of letter-writing among politicians.
Last week, three union presidents wrote a letter to Congress’s top Democrats, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada and House Minority leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California, sharply criticizing the Obama administration and the law’s impact on union-run health plans. Today, the unions got a response of sorts — from Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch.
The Utah Republican wrote to James Hoffa, president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, and two other union presidents, asking them to join Republicans in calling for a “permanent delay” of the law “until we are able to come up with a plan that will achieve the law’s stated goals.” In the meantime, he argued, the law would drive up costs while failing to cover as many people as once promised.
Since last year, union leaders have complained that many of the law’s requirements will drive up costs for union-sponsored health-care plans that are managed jointly by unions and mostly small employers, potentially causing unionized employers to drop the plans that cover more than 20 million people.
In a letter dated July 11 to Sen. Reid and Rep. Pelosi, the union presidents said that without changes the Affordable Care Act will devastate union-sponsored health-insurance plans. Union officials have also been upset that the Obama administration listened to employer requests to delay a provision requiring bigger companies to provide insurance coverage or pay a penalty. That rule, which had been scheduled to take effect in early 2014, has been pushed back a year.
The union officials called the delay “disconcerting.” They also said union arguments have been “disregarded and met with a stone wall by the White House.”
“Since your activities to encourage changes to the law have, to date, been unsuccessful,” Sen. Hatch wrote, “I want to invite you to join me in an effort to help the Obama Administration and Congress understand the full impact the law has had and will continue to have.”
The Utah Republican told the labor leaders that he agreed with their assessment that the law is motivating employers to cut workers’ hours and “destroy the foundation” of the 40 hour work week.
“My colleagues here in Congress – members of both parties – have highlighted similar concerns with the law,” Sen. Hatch wrote. Last week, he and fellow Republicans sent a separate letter to the White House calling for delaying the law’s implementation indefinitely.
It’s not clear whether the Teamsters, the United Food and Commercial Workers and Unite Here, a union that represents hotel and laundry workers, would ever consider joining forces with Republicans on the issue. Leigh Strope, a spokeswoman for the Teamsters, said the union declined to comment on Sen. Hatch’s letter. A Unite Here spokeswoman also declined to comment.
Tim Schlittner, a UFCW spokesman, said he viewed Sen. Hatch’s invitation as being insincere because he believed the lawmaker had previously recommended that the White House ignore the union’s concerns about the law.
“As much as Senator Hatch wants to make this about scoring political points against the Affordable Care Act, our motivation is preserving the best health care possible for our members,” Mr. Schlittner said.
Sen. Hatch, who once worked as a construction worker in the Wood, Wire and Metal Lathers Union, typically opposes union-backed legislation. But Julia Lawless, his press secretary, held out hope that unions would accept the invitation.
“We certainly hope these organizations join us in this effort,” said Ms. Lawless. “With each passing day we are watching ObamaCare unravel and it’s hard-working, middle-class families –including union families – that are being forced to pay the price.”
Resolution 54: AFL-CIO Convention Resolution on the Affordable Care Act
Submitted by the Building and Construction Trades Department, the International Union of Operating Engineers and the American Federation of Teachers
Referred to the Resolutions Committee
Referred to the Executive Council by the Resolutions Committee with the Recommendation that It Be Sent to the Convention for Adoption
Referred to the Convention by the Executive Council with a Recommendation for Adoption
WHEREAS, in 2009, the AFL-CIO Convention passed two health care resolutions—Health Care Reform Now and the Social Insurance Model for Health Care Reform—which reaffirmed the labor movement’s commitment to health care for all, ultimately through a single-payer system. In 2010, Congress passed the Affordable Care Act (ACA);
WHEREAS, the AFL-CIO continues to support the ACA’s goal of securing high-quality, affordable health coverage for all Americans; three years after the passage of the Affordable Care Act, we reaffirm our commitment to the goal of affordable, quality health care for all but recognize that the ACA remains a work in progress;
WHEREAS, the ACA’s expansion of comprehensive health insurance to 25 million more Americans, support for affordability through expanded Medicaid eligibility and premium subsidies and insurance market reforms are clear gains for working families. The new law also has eliminated some of the worst insurance company abuses, cut costs for seniors, and appears to be contributing to lower rates for individual coverage in states like California and New York;
WHEREAS, the federal agencies administering the ACA have interpreted the Act in ways that are threatening the ability of workers to keep health care coverage through some collectively bargained, non-profit health care funds. Republican governors in many states have refused to participate in implementing the Act and are even actively blocking efforts to provide health care to all through Medicaid expansion;
WHEREAS, for decades before the enactment of the Affordable Care Act, such quality, affordable health coverage has been provided to workers and their families through non-profit multiemployer health plans negotiated between unions and participating employers, including the approximately 20 million individuals covered by such plans today;
WHEREAS, the health coverage provided through multiemployer plans has met the goals of the Affordable Care Act by providing portable, affordable, high-quality coverage for workers who would otherwise be left out of typical employer plans, including participants in industries where employment is mobile or part-time;
WHEREAS, multiemployer health plans have been attractive to employers because they provide predictable, consistent and cost-effective long-term health coverage for workers;
WHEREAS, multiemployer health plans have been attractive to employees because they provide a consumer-oriented plan design, portability, stability and flexibility;
WHEREAS, contrary to the law’s intent, some workers might not be able to keep their coverage and their doctors because the federal agencies’ current implementation plans will be highly disruptive to the operation of Taft-Hartley multiemployer plans, substantially changing the coverage available for millions of covered employees and their families;
WHEREAS, the federal agencies tasked with implementing the law have unnecessarily imposed an interpretation of the Affordable Care Act which imposes additional costs and fees for which plan participants receive no benefit, unnecessarily driving coverage costs higher;
WHEREAS, in industries like construction, where 93 percent of employers are considered small under the ACA, the playing field is now even more tilted in favor of companies that shirk responsibility toward their workers;
WHEREAS, current negotiation of collective bargaining agreements setting the terms of health insurance coverage for plan participants are already demonstrating the adverse impact of the application of the Affordable Care Act to multiemployer plans;
WHEREAS, the multiemployer plan community, including the AFL-CIO and other labor organizations, has engaged the Administration since the passage of the Affordable Care Act to work toward a legally supportable regulatory approach that would enable multiemployer plans to continue to provide the valuable coverage they provide today and to allow participants to keep the coverage they have;
WHEREAS, unless changes are made, the ACA will effectively use taxpayer dollars to subsidize employers that refuse to take responsibility for providing their employees health care, placing more responsible employers at a competitive disadvantage, and destabilizing the employment-based health care system. At the same time, the ACA will be taxing non-profit worker health plans for the exclusive benefit of for-profit insurance companies. Employers will then have a financial incentive to drop coverage and force low-wage workers onto the exchanges, making it nearly impossible for those workers’ plans to continue. The end result will be that millions more workers and their families will be forced onto the exchanges, increasing the costs of the exchanges to the federal government and undermining the finances of the ACA;
WHEREAS, the labor movement has pushed for a requirement in the ACA that allemployers assume responsibility for contributing toward the cost of health care for their employees, either by offering health benefits or by making substantial contributions to a public fund to finance coverage for uninsured workers;
WHEREAS, the ACA includes a limited employer responsibility penalty that applies just to medium and large employers, and then only for employees who work 30 or more hours per week on average, it falls short of what is needed to prevent irresponsible employer behavior. Employers are preparing to avoid paying penalties by cutting workers’ hours and pay, thereby creating a new underclass of less-than-30-hour workers;
WHEREAS, we must not shift costs to working families and retirees or endanger the quality of care or limit access to care by underfunding urban, safety-net hospitals and other critical providers. ACA’s payment and delivery reforms are an important step toward lowering costs, but they should be implemented in a way that protects the availability of services for our communities. And the cuts in reimbursement to hospitals and other providers should be accompanied by stronger mechanisms to ensure the maintenance of safe staffing and effective care delivery;
WHEREAS, workers should not be penalized for negotiating good health care benefits by having them subjected to special taxation—particularly so long as the tax system as a whole is tilted so severely in the direction of the very rich;
WHEREAS, denying eligibility for health benefits to immigrants on the path to citizenship is not only cruel, but also short-sighted given the important connections between coverage expansion and controlling the growth of health costs;
WHEREAS, it has been a common practice for public unions in New York and elsewhere to build a benefit structure through three different plans: 1) a comprehensive basic health plan negotiated with the employer, providing hospital, medical and related benefits; 2) a per-employee cash contribution to a union-sponsored welfare trust fund that is used to provide supplemental benefits such as prescription drugs and other health care benefits; and 3) voluntary member-paid benefits, sponsored by the union or union trust funds for insurances like umbrella policies that cover catastrophic health care claims. Under the current construction of the ACA, each separate insurer (or plan if the benefit is self-funded) will pay the Transitional Reinsurance (TR) and Patient Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI) fees. This means that these fees will be levied three times on the same group of workers. These fees should only be charged once and only to the plan sponsor of the base health plan, as is the ACA rule for single employers;
WHEREAS, the ACA Excise Tax, Reinsurance Fee and other fees will drive the costs of collectively bargained, union administered plans, and other plans that cover unionized workers, to unsupportable levels, resulting in pressure to shift costs to workers, cut wages, and to agree to unacceptable high deductible plans;
WHEREAS, the federal agencies have not provided a regulatory approach that provides a positive environment for all of our plans, including multiemployer plans;
WHEREAS, this resolution is not meant to be a comprehensive list of the benefits and the problems of the ACA;
WHEREAS, because of these factors and the impact on our members, many unions have called for changes in the Affordable Care Act;
NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that the AFL-CIO reaffirms the health care resolutions adopted by the 2009 convention, including the commitment to pursue health care for all ultimately through a single-payer system;
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the ACA should be administered in a manner that preserves the high-quality health coverage multiemployer plans have provided to union families for decades and, if this is not possible, we will demand the ACA be amended by Congress;
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that non-profit multiemployer plans should have access to the ACA’s premium tax credits and cost-sharing reductions on behalf of working families, just as for-profit insurance companies will;
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the employer responsibility rules should be fixed by applying  a full employer penalty for failing to provide affordable comprehensive coverage to workers who average 20 or more hours per week and adding an employer penalty on a pro rata basis for employees who work fewer than 20 hours per week.
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the employer responsibility rules should be fixed further by extending employer responsibility requirements to more employers, especially to construction companies with five or more employees as was provided by the Merkley Amendment included in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act;
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that employers that attempt to shirk their responsibility in its entirety by dumping low-income workers into Medicaid should be penalized;
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the AFL-CIO will strongly oppose taxing workers’ health benefits;
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the AFL-CIO supports the preservation of collectively bargained plans, union administered plans, and other plans that cover unionized workers, by eliminating the ACA Excise Tax, Reinsurance Fee and all other fees;
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that we call on the federal agencies responsible for implementing the Act to exempt supplemental welfare benefit plans from the PCORI and reinsurance fees.
Union Letter: Obamacare Will ‘Destroy The Very Health and Wellbeing’ of Workers
July 12, 2013, 6:08 PM
The leaders of three major U.S. unions, including the highly influential Teamsters, have sent a scathing letter to Democratic leaders in Congress, warning that unless changes are made, President Obama’s health care reform plan will “destroy the foundation of the 40 hour work week that is the backbone of the American middle class.”
If that’s not bad enough, the Affordable Care Act, if not modified, will “destroy the very health and wellbeing of our members along with millions of other hardworking Americans,” the letter says.
The full letter, below:
Dear Leader Reid and Leader Pelosi:
When you and the President sought our support for the Affordable Care Act (ACA), you pledged that if we liked the health plans we have now, we could keep them. Sadly, that promise is under threat. Right now, unless you and the Obama Administration enact an equitable fix, the ACA 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.
Like millions of other Americans, our members are front-line workers in the American economy. We have been strong supporters of the notion that all Americans should have access to quality, affordable health care. We have also been strong supporters of you. In campaign after campaign we have put boots on the ground, gone door-to-door to get out the vote, run phone banks and raised money to secure this vision.
Now this vision has come back to haunt us.
Since the ACA was enacted, we have been bringing our deep concerns to the Administration, seeking reasonable regulatory interpretations to the statute that would help prevent the destruction of non-profit health plans. As you both know first-hand, our persuasive arguments have been disregarded and met with a stone wall by the White House and the pertinent agencies. This is especially stinging because other stakeholders have repeatedly received successful interpretations for their respective grievances. Most disconcerting of course is last week’s huge accommodation for the employer community—extending the statutorily mandated “December 31, 2013” deadline for the employer mandate and penalties.
Time is running out: Congress wrote this law; we voted for you. We have a problem; you need to fix it. The unintended consequences of the ACA are severe. Perverse incentives are already creating nightmare scenarios:
First, the law creates an incentive for employers to keep employees’ work hours below 30 hours a week. Numerous employers have begun to cut workers’ hours to avoid this obligation, and many of them are doing so openly. The impact is two-fold: fewer hours means less pay while also losing our current health benefits.

Second, millions of Americans are covered by non-profit health insurance plans like the ones in which most of our members participate. These non-profit plans are governed jointly by unions and companies under the Taft-Hartley Act. Our health plans have been built over decades by working men and women. Under the ACA as interpreted by the Administration, our employees will treated differently and not be eligible for subsidies afforded other citizens. As such, many employees will be relegated to second-class status and shut out of the help the law offers to for-profit insurance plans.
And finally, even though non-profit plans like ours won’t receive the same subsidies as for-profit plans, they’ll be taxed to pay for those subsidies. Taken together, these restrictions will make non-profit plans like ours unsustainable, and will undermine the health-care market of viable alternatives to the big health insurance companies.
On behalf of the millions of working men and women we represent and the families they support, we can no longer stand silent in the face of elements of the Affordable Care Act that will destroy the very health and wellbeing of our members along with millions of other hardworking Americans.
We believe that there are common-sense corrections that can be made within the existing statute that will allow our members to continue to keep their current health plans and benefits just as you and the President pledged. Unless changes are made, however, that promise is hollow.
We continue to stand behind real health care reform, but the law as it stands will hurt millions of Americans including the members of our respective unions.
We are looking to you to make sure these changes are made.
James P. Hoffa
General President
International Brotherhood of Teamsters
Joseph Hansen
International President
D. Taylor
The Wall Street Journal
Monday, November 11, 2013
Washington WirePolitical Insight and Analysis From The Wall Street Journal's Capital Bureau
Union Fears ‘Destructive Consequences’ From Obamacare
July 19, 2013
By Kris Maher
The laborers union has added to organized labor’s drumbeat of dissatisfaction with the Affordable Care Act.

In a letter sent to President Barack  Obama on Thursday, Laborers International Union of North America President Terry O’Sullivan wrote that the law has “destructive consequences” for the types of health plans that cover millions of unionized construction workers and their family members.
Click on the image to start interactive tour.The letter follows a separate one written last week by the heads of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, the United Food and Commercial Workers and Unite Here, expressing similar concerns to Congress’s top Democrats, Sen. Harry Reid and Rep. Nancy Pelosi. The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers took out print ads raising alarms about the law last week as well.

Mr. O’Sullivan zeroed in on some factors that could directly impact unionized construction workers who are typically covered by multiemployer plans. He noted that costs are rising for such plans because of the law’s benefit mandates. Moreover, a tax under the law would cost such health plans $63 per covered individual, or $630,000 for a plan covering 10,000 people, he wrote. The proceeds of the tax will be used to subsidize insurance companies offering health plans in the Health Exchanges.
“In effect, ACA takes money from the pockets of each laborer covered by a health and welfare fund and gives it to for-profit insurance companies,” Mr. O’Sullivan wrote. Those added costs will eventually impact collective bargaining agreements, he said, making union construction companies less competitive than nonunion ones and resulting in less work for union laborers.
Mr. O’Sullivan concluded: “Approximately 3 million laborers, retirees, and their families now face the very real prospect of losing their health benefits. This, I must remind you, was something that you promised would not happen.”
The laborers union, with about 570,000 members, is one of a few major unions that didn’t support enactment of Affordable Care Act, Mr. O’Sullivan reminded Mr. Obama. “Now, we have watched as the implementation of the law has progressed, our fears have become reality,” he wrote.
The letter was copied to Vice President Joe Biden, as well as Sen. Reid and Rep. Pelosi.
Obama’s Labor Pains: Unions Rage Against the Affordable Care Act
Excerpt daily beast:
"Three years later, union leaders say the bill they fought to pass now threatens to hurt their own members. At issue are the collectively bargained, multi-employer insurance plans that more than 15 million unionized workers access under the Taft-Hartley Act. Those plans currently allow workers like builders and electricians to change jobs among participating employers and stay in the same health-insurance plan. Because many of the jobs involve manual labor, the plans usually account for injuries and repetitive stresses, benefits that unions say their workers sought instead of higher wages.
But this could change. Under the Affordable Care Act, small companies could choose to stop covering workers through the union agreements and send their workers to the state-based exchanges instead. Through these exchanges, workers would pay lower premiums, thanks to federal government subsidies. But labor leaders fear that the workers who retain union plans will end up paying higher premiums, since there will be fewer people in the plans, and coverage could be less generous. No one knows for sure that this is how it will play out—companies could very well decide to continue in the union plans and keep the status quo—but unions are predicting the worst.
Republicans are saying “I told you so.” Democrats are saying that while they never meant to hurt their allies in organized labor, their hands are now tied by the House GOP. In a decision last week, the Obama administration said it can’t make the changes union leaders are looking for, either. Unions now are left in the middle of the roiling family feud that all agree has no easy answers.  
The first public signs of trouble came in July, when union leaders including Teamsters’ president James Hoffa wrote a blistering letter to Democratic leaders Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid warning of "nightmare scenarios" for millions of workers if the Affordable Care Act is not changed to accommodate labor health plans." 
“Congress wrote this law; we voted for you,” they wrote. “We have a problem; you need to fix it.”
Scams sprout with rollout of Obamacare
Amber Hunt, The Cincinnati Enquirer
November 11, 2013
Confusion over health insurance law opens floodgates for fraud.

CINCINNATI -- Ohio resident James Dick already had deleted an inbox's worth of bogus e-mails about the Affordable Care Act when his telephone rang.  On the other end: a convincing-sounding man claiming to be from the national Medicare office. He told Dick that he was ready to send him a new Medicare card but first needed to verify the 69-year-old's identity -- by asking for his bank account number.

"I said, 'No, I don't think so,' " Dick told The Cincinnati Enquirer. The man insisted that he couldn't verify Dick's identity without the number and kept pressing for it until Dick hung up.

"It was a scam is what it was," Dick said. "I'm sure they've done it to other people. Most people don't realize what they're doing."  According to computer security experts and government officials, Dick is right. Since the launch of Obamacare, residents nationwide are finding themselves targets of ACA scams. It's making the already-troubled debut of a controversial law even more confusing.

"It's an opportunity for scammers, and scammers very rarely leave an opportunity unfulfilled," said Mark Rasch, a former computer crime and fraud prosecutor with the U.S. Department of Justice.
Schemes appear within days of enrollment opening The scams come in many forms -- as e-mails, phone calls and imposter websites. Some rely on ignorance about what the health-care law actually
covers, such as one touting that recipients could qualify for cheaper auto insurance. (Hint: The ACA does not affect car coverage.)
more info:
Scams sprout with rollout of Obamacare

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