The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, December 11, 2015

Dems need to lead in dumping it, or face reprisals at the polls

By The Building Tradesman

By Mark Gruenberg
PAI Staff Writer

LAS VEGAS (PAI)—Unite Here union President D. Taylor is warning Democratic defenders of the Affordable Care Act to dump its looming “Cadillac" Tax on so-called high-value health care plans or face problems at the polls next year.

In a column published in Huffington Post, Taylor, who heads the 270,000-member union that represents hotel workers, restaurant workers and others among the lowest-paid workers in the U.S., says bluntly that those workers can’t afford to pay the tax.

He adds employers will pass on the costs of the tax onto them in the form of less money in paychecks or less coverage. Indeed, they’re already imposing the latter option, he declares.

Democrats are campaigning to keep the ACA intact, without changing the Cadillac Tax, for fear that opening the ACA on one front would advance the congressional Republicans’ campaign to repeal the ACA entirely, without replacing it. The Dems are short-sighted, Taylor adds.

Those Democrats risk hurting the low-income minority and female voters, such as his members, whom they need to win next year’s election, Taylor explains.

“Employer-provided health insurance with low premium and out-of- pocket costs is an essential part of a decent job and a stable family,” Taylor wrote in his analysis. “Every penny counts, and people who clean rooms and cook food for a living can't afford $5,000 or $10,000 deductibles and higher co-pays.

“Members of our union are not terribly interested in partisan politics. We fight for our families, for fair pay, and a just and equal society regardless of party label. We fought hard to help elect President Obama on the promise of expanding coverage for the uninsured while keeping the healthcare we have, as the president promised. We now know that promise was false. And every day proves the claims of ACA supporters about other parts of the law are equally false."

The Obama administration crafted the Cadillac Tax, which taxes health care plans valued at more than $10,000 annually for an individual or $27,000 for a family, in the last-minute bargaining with Congress to pass the ACA. The excise tax would be 40 percent of a plan’s value above those thresholds. Unions strongly objected, but then supported the ACA.

Many health care plans subject to the tax have been hammered out in company-union bargaining, and up to two-thirds of covered firms are already reacting to the Cadillac Tax – in advance – by raising premiums and slashing deductibles, Taylor said. His members, and other workers, can’t afford that, and the tax itself would be the last straw.

Union leaders across the worker spectrum have united in a campaign, which some companies have also joined, to repeal the Cadillac Tax. The administration has so far turned a deaf ear to the campaign, or to forecasts of the tax’s negative impact on workers.

“A bevy of Democratic academic heavyweights” including Economic Policy Institute co-founder Jared Bernstein, a former economic adviser to Vice President Joseph Biden, “made a series of false or unsupported claims to support the idea” of the Cadillac tax, Taylor contends.

“They should come down to the shop floor” and explain the benefits of the Cadillac tax to his members, who will get hurt by it, he challenges.

Other unions are also weighing in against the Cadillac tax, either by lobbying lawmakers, launching petitions and protests, or both. Among their moves:

• Two and a half years ago, citing unintended consequences, Roofers President Kinsey Robinson became the first union leader to call for repeal of the ACA, not just the Cadillac tax.

He said it would destroy multi-employer health plans, which are prevalent in construction. “I refuse to remain silent or watch as the ACA destroys these protections,” he said.

• The Laborers just posted a letter on their website for members to fill out and send to their senators. Headed “Don’t tax my benefits!” their letter makes many of the same points, adding: “The tax was intended to discourage overly generous and unnecessary plans. But it has unintended consequences and union members are taking the brunt of it.”

•IBEW members and supporters say the tax is prompting employers to make health care cuts to dodge the impact, but are failing to compensate employees for the loss. “Despite the fact that this thing doesn’t take effect for more than two years, locals are already having to factor its effects into their contract negotiations,” said Dan Gardner, an international representative in the IBEW Political and Legislative Department. “The trouble,” Gardner continued, “is that the White House and the Congressional Budget Office assume that when a company reduces benefits on one side of the equation, they’re adding that money back in wages. And anybody who has ever sat on our side of the negotiating table knows that is pure fantasy.”

• National Nurses United uses the looming Cadillac Tax as yet another reason to replace the whole jerry-built private-insurance-based U.S. health care system with government-run single-payer national health insurance, also known as Medicare for All.

Taylor concludes: “Another election cycle is upon us. Democrats in particular will ignore fixing” the ACA “to their peril at the ballot box. That is not something we wish for. It is just a fact."

In his article, “This Is Why Americans Detest Washington,” Taylor states. “In the minds of wealthy Democratic academics, the 270,000 cooks, hotel housekeepers and food servers in our union should just take one for the team in lost benefits, increased taxes and poorer healthcare to score partisan political points.

“It's a simple idea: American workers cannot afford higher health costs,” he declared. But the academics and Obama supporters “ignored it and spent six years accusing anyone looking for responsible fixes” to the ACA “of wanting to repeal the whole law for their own partisan political reasons. That's just dishonest.

“There is nothing Cadillac about hospitality workers,” Taylor said. Maybe the academics who back the Cadillac tax – because they contend it will curb health care inflation and insur-ance overuse, among other reasons – will donate their speaking fees “to help workers who will have to choose between groceries and taking their kids to the doctor when their costs go up.

“Another election cycle is upon us. Democrats in particular will ignore fixing” the ACA “to their peril at the ballot box. That is not something we wish for. It is just a fact,” Taylor concludes.