Obama-care presents some additional challenges for those union members who aren’t public employees. Many employers of low-wage workers have expressed concern that they may have to drop existing health coverage, as Obama-care has outlawed the salient features of many cheaper insurance options. Offending plans had benefit caps and other drawbacks but were often the only affordable option for low-wage workers.
Owners of chain restaurants were particularly vocal about this problem, and in some cases subject to public opprobrium from Obama supporters for expressing concern that they might have to cut jobs or drop insurance as a result of the law. Now unions are expressing the same fears for the same reasons. Yet again, unions want a special dispensation for their own low-wage workers. The AFL-CIO, Teamsters, Unite Here Health, and other powerful unions are lobbying to let low-wage union workers remain on their existing insurance plans, while also collecting an Obama-care subsidy that is supposed to go only to low-wage workers without employer coverage.
The Obama administration hasn’t ruled the idea out. “These matters are the subject of pending regulations,” a Treasury spokesman told the Wall Street Journal. Aside from the question of cost, it would seem difficult for the administration to justify allowing only union workers to collect a subsidy on top of an existing insurance plan. If union workers lost their employer insurance coverage, they could take comfort in the fact Obama-care has a surprisingly expansive definition of who’s poor enough to qualify for government assistance to pay for health care. A family of four making up to $92,200 a year would qualify for a subsidy, and the subsidies are proportionally larger for those with lower incomes.
Beyond the specifics, what union leaders are really saying is that they have no confidence Obama-care will live up to its central promise—that the government can provide millions of uninsured Americans with health care coverage that both is affordable and meets their needs.