Unions say Obama betrayed them on ACA

More news. There’s a battle brewing between the White House and several labor unions over implementation of the ACA, Obama’s Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare).

The headline and lede — a number of unions are angry with the White House over what they call a “betrayal” of promises made to them in the 2008 presidential campaign by the man they strongly supported. That promise? It again goes back to this Obama quote:

“If you like your health-care coverage, you can keep it.”

While many unionized workers get their health insurance totally from employer-provided plans, a number do not. Consider the Laborers union, for example. These are the lowest paid workers on a unionized construction site — they’re not carpenters, millwrights, drivers, or any other specialty. They are the people who carry stuff, cut stuff up for scrap, operate elevators for the other workers.

These workers, like most other unionized construction workers, can’t get health insurance from their employers because they have many employers throughout the year (they hope). Therefore, their union provides them an insurance plan.

But according to the Washington Post, here’s what’s happening to those plans:

[The unions’] complaints reflect a broad sense of disappointment among many labor leaders, who say the Affordable Care Act has subjected union health plans to new taxes and mandates while not allowing them to share in the subsidies that have gone to private insurance companies competing on the newly created exchanges.

Feel free to read through the piece, but in short, the White House has decided to treat all union-provided plans (called “Taft-Hartley plans,” as explained in the article) as if they were employer plans. That subjects them to the taxes and mandates of other employer plans, plus adds some special taxes to them, and then excludes them from being eligible for subsidies via the exchanges. In effect, say the unions, it would destroy their plans. Thus the reference to Obama’s now famous “you can keep it” quote.

At present, two unions are complaining formally, the Laborers union from the example above and UNITE HERE, which covers culinary and hotel workers. Other unions are feeling the pinch, as well as some churches and corporations who also operate their own “self-funded” plans, which like the Taft-Hartleys are regulated at the national level, not state-regulated like commercial insurers, and face the same hurdles to being offered on the exchanges. But these two unions are the lead complainants.

What’s wrong with the way the White House is treating union-provided plans?

The gist of the criticisms are these. First, the ACA doesn’t take into account what makes these health plans different, and puts them at a competitive disadvantage relative to the individual plans offered by the big insurance companies. Washington Post again, my emphasis and paragraphing:

Union officials acknowledge that their plans are unique but say the health-care law didn’t take that into account. As a result, they say, commercial insurers can cover anyone through the individual or group markets, while their funds cannot. They add that the law provides incentives for employers to drop coverage and shift their employees to the exchanges.

The legislation also imposes a $63-a-person annual tax on nonprofit, self-funded plans, including unions’ plans, and uses that money to subsidize insurance companies that take on costly patients. The union plans do not get any of that subsidy money, a source of union outrage.

Labor leaders also complain the law hurts in other ways. In the Las Vegas area alone, the Unite Here health fund has absorbed about 13,577 new young-adult dependents at an annual cost of $16.3 million because of the rule allowing young adults to stay on their parents’ health plan until the age of 26, union leaders said. Unions also complain that their plans are not allowed to compete with for-profit insurance companies on the new exchanges, where they might offer lower-cost options.

That’s quite a set of penalties and competitive disadvantages. The unions (and others who offer such plans) say this will destroy their plans and want those rules reversed. The White House refuses.

And then there’s the sense of betrayal. These unions, including UNITE HERE, one of the first to endorse Obama in 2008, say they were told repeatedly that if there were problems with the law, it would be fixed:

TVA construction worker, 1942

TVA construction worker, 1942

Leaders of two major unions, including the first to endorse Obama in 2008, said they have been betrayed by an administration that wooed their support for the 2009 legislation with promises to later address the peculiar needs of union-negotiated insurance plans that cover millions of workers. …

[Donald] Taylor [UNITE HERE president] said Unite Here officials have met with White House officials 48 times. At the time the health-care bill was being considered, he said, “we were told that ‘if there were problems, don’t worry, we’ll get them fixed.’ ”

The White House says that giving in to the unions would allow their members to “double-dip” — get two benefits where others get just one. Read the piece to sort that out. Also, read the piece to see how other unions and the AFL-CIO are staying mute on this, despite strong labor support for Obama is 2008 and 2012, and assurances to them that their issues — including the now-forgotten Employee Free Choice Act — would get top priority by the new administration.

“Now-forgotten” by whom? By the unions themselves, it seems. Apparently, if you’re a union, you’re only Cinderella when the lights are bright and someone wants something from you.

Why is the ACA such a tangled mess?

To help make sense of this story, you need to consider the ACA in general and from the top. Simply put, the ACA is a tangled mess that does some good. We covered why it was a tangled mess here. That piece quotes at length from Ari Berman, who has the details:

The inside strategy pursued by [White House aide Jim] Messina, relying on industry lobbyists and senior legislators to advance the bill, was directly counter to the promise of the 2008 Obama campaign, which talked endlessly about mobilizing grassroots support to bring fundamental change to Washington.

But that wasn’t Messina’s style—instead, he spearheaded the administration’s deals with doctors, hospitals and drug companies, particularly the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), one of the most egregious aspects of the bill. “They cared more about their relationship with the healthcare industry than anyone else,” says one former HCAN staffer. “It was shocking to see. To me, that was the scariest part of it, because this White House had ridden in on a white horse and said, ‘We’re not going to do this anymore.’

When they were negotiating special deals with industry, [former Baucus aide] Messina and Baucus [current] chief of staff Jon Selib were also pushing major healthcare companies and trade associations to pour millions of dollars into TV ads defending the bill. …

I added this summary:

So why is the ACA is so complicated? Because the only customers that Obama, Messina and Max Baucus listened to during the entire process were “doctors, hospitals and drug companies, particularly the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA),” not to mention the for-profit health insurance industry itself. Not progressives, including House progressives, and not the grassroots base. Just the industries.

A public program that serves mainly private interests has to be complicated, if it wants to appear to be a public program. Once you decide on a Clintonian privatized plan, the only way to obscure your goal is complication. Otherwise, it’s just private insurance.

That tangle necessarily results from what the plan appears designed to accomplish:

▪ Occupy space originally planned for Medicare
▪ Preserve employer-based health insurance as the way most Americans are covered
▪ Preserve the role of the billion-dollar health insurance companies as the only entities providing health insurance to working-age people and their children

I’ll leave you to sort what to think about all this. But union anger is news. Will it evolve into something more? We’ll have to see. After all, we’ve heard that song before. Maybe the unions could take a lesson from the oft-betrayed gay movement, something about standing up for yourself and fighting back … or something.


To follow or send links: @Gaius_Publius

Gaius Publius is a professional writer living on the West Coast of the United States.

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52 Responses to “Unions say Obama betrayed them on ACA”

  1. Joshua Pabelick says:

    ah yes saying what i already did in another way. Man i hope you get some help soon.Would hate to find out you hurt someone in your delusional state

  2. cole3244 says:

    finally i get to move on to a more intellectual subject rather than your endless four letter word diatribe about hate.

    it hasn’t been nice but it has been enlightening learning how the neanderthals think, thanks.

  3. Joshua Pabelick says:

    You know i have come to the realization you are one of those dems who spouts their mouths off but has no clue what happens in reality. To you everyone is racist, a bigot, low IQ etc etc. Again i really do feel sorry for you and hope one day you can get the help you need for your mental issues. Perhaps once you get on your tax payer provided/obama handout health insurance you can finally see the doctor. Either way i’m tired of you and your endless yapping with no substances

  4. cole3244 says:

    although you were never really interesting at least you were different in a bad way but plagiarizing my comment because you are void of any intellect to think of something yourself is pathetic, that is typical of a bigoted mind though.
    i will give you time to look up plagiarizing so i expect to hear from you in 24 hours or more if your last attempt at responding is any indication of your educational background, or you can get help from whomever has been guiding you up to now.

  5. Joshua Pabelick says:

    Ah grammar nazi also forgets to capitalize his own sentences but i shouldn’t expect a special ed person to know the difference. The more you post the deeper the hole you live in gets and the clearer my low opinion of you gets.

  6. cole3244 says:

    that’s you’re not your but i shouldn’t expect an ignorant bigot to know that.
    the more you post the deeper that hole you live in gets and the clearer my low opinion of you gets, thank you for the edification.

  7. Joshua Pabelick says:

    so saying someone is half white is now bigotry? Are you sure your not special needs?

  8. cole3244 says:

    half white, your bigotry is front and center at all times, and i thought the missing link would never appear but here it is posting with me, amazing!

  9. Joshua Pabelick says:

    truth hurt?

  10. Joshua Pabelick says:

    no your right he is an undercover rep who panders and caters to all of your demographics makes much more sense……..

  11. Joshua Pabelick says:

    Yes because anyone who disagrees with the half WHITE president must be racist. Are you truly this stupid or are you trolling right now? Obama is as far left as you can be. He catered to the unions when needed, he panders to the unemployed when needed, he panders to the minorities when needed and then when it counts turns on all of them. True Dem fashion promise handouts and “change” and then do nothing and screwing those who voted for you

  12. woodroad34 says:

    I have a luke-warm argument going with my niece, who put a picture of Obama on her facebook page that implied Obama was stifling job growth. Of course my position was that he’s been doing infinitely better than the criminal Bush ever did. She countered with how unemployment has only gone down because people on unemployment have quit signing up for it or have run out of their money due to the lack of jobs (which, in my mind, doesn’t equal Obama stifling jobs). I did a search online to see Obama’s job enhancing successes and all I could find was that it was miserable; granted they were all conservative sites–but I couldn’t find any site that lauded or at least measuredly lauded his efforts. I have been equating Obama’s recent economic successes with employment success (good economy means job growth). I also remember when Obama took office both Democratic and Republican economists claimed that it would take 20 years to get over the massive Bushian Recession and yet (as I use my 401k as a measurement), we’re doing extremely well after 6 years of Obama. Does anyone have a site to go to that can help me with this?

  13. karmanot says:


  14. karmanot says:

    “he is your hard left leaning socialist president.” ROTFL—–Sweeps trash from blog site.

  15. cole3244 says:

    obama isn’t even left of center but you let your hate of his skin color influence you into thinking he is, just admit it you are a pathetic hater with no sense of integrity or moral compass aka conservative.

  16. Joshua Pabelick says:

    Man the level of hypocrisy that you display is imply amazing. So not all lefties are libs but all righties are wingnuts. LOL it must suck to love your life with all the challenges your suffer from

  17. cole3244 says:

    when you learn to use political terminology correctly we can continue until then go back in your cave and sleep it off.
    just a suggestion, everyone that you dislike is not a liberal but that’s why you wingnuts are called wingnuts now isn’t it.

  18. Joshua Pabelick says:

    Sorry Obama really only has foreign policies similar to Bush. His whole agenda of promoting welfare programs is entirely socialist possibly communism.

  19. Joshua Pabelick says:

    Ah yes more of the expected Demorat replies. When in doubt move to personal attacks and refuse to acknowledge what was just said. Are you on the Dem payroll at least? I mean you seem to pretty much be at the beck and call of your master i hope you get something out of it.

  20. Nathanael says:

    Obama’s a right-winger; his policies are very, very similar to those of George W. Bush. And Republicans lie, all the time.

    And I voted for the Green Party. Socialism would be nice — Obama is not socialist at all. Just ask a socialist.

  21. cole3244 says:

    you are not only a bigot but a fool, obama is as much a liberal as you are but you let your hatred cloud your judgement.

    if you intend to talk politics try and be informed and not throw out the typical right wing talking points they only make you look dumber than you already are.

  22. Joshua Pabelick says:

    Nice playing the race card right away you are a well trained Dem. Sorry but i hate everything that the extreme liberal democrat Obama stands for. Years of failed policies have shown he is unqualified to lead and this is just another shinning example. Enjoy your hope and change

  23. Betraying unions is a feature, not a bug.

    Obama’s first patron was the subprime bank destroying union hating Penny Pritzger.

    Notwithstanding his occasional protestations of support, he is a Rubinite through and through, and the idea of labor protections and labor unions are an anathema to him.

  24. cole3244 says:

    whats stronger your dislike of dem obama or black obama, just trying to find out if its ignorance or stupidity that drives you.
    i will wait with bated breath for your reply.

  25. Joshua Pabelick says:

    How funny it is to watch you stupid Dems now try and turn on Obama by making him out to be an undecover Rep. Maybe you should have paid attention the last 5 years and seen what the moron was doing to America instead of complaining about Bush and the house. Reps weren’t handing you a line when they said things are going down hill and the ACA would destroy many people but you refused to listen. Now look at what you got inflated marketplace rates, unions being destroyed from the inside out and the majority of the people wanting the ACA changed/repealed. Good job Dems you want hope and change well here you go

  26. Joshua Pabelick says:

    Obama is no rep he is your hard left leaning socialist president. You voted him in twice despite Reps telling you Obama is no good for America and cannot be trusted. Reap what you sow guys.

  27. erik says:

    Instead of focusing on getting an exception in aca the union leadership should seize on this opportunity to rewrite taft hartley of 1947. why are unions living in a world based on a law from 1947? doing this they can kill 2 birds with one stone and im sure obama and their members will get behind it. but obama will have to keep his promise this time. they can focus on whatever healthcare portions of the law and getting some type of card check check or repeal of certain aspects of taft hartley that are detrimental to collective bargaining

  28. TheAngryFag says:

    As Dan Savage put it “Still evil. Less evil. But still evil.”

  29. cole3244 says:

    if you push people to where they have no hope and nothing too lose the consequences will be dire.
    the 1% had better rethink their agenda because once a tipping point is reached there is no going back and they will regret this road they have gone down, just look back at czarist russia and that might be a model to compare.

  30. Nathanael says:

    It’s so stupid. Destroy the middle class and you destroy stable society, and then viva la revolucion. The elite *should not want this*. Even if they don’t want unions (understandable), they should very, very much want a middle class.

  31. Nathanael says:

    The “costs” in hospitals and doctors’ offices are strictly, 100%, fraudulent. I’m actually surprised that none of the state attorney generals have gone after them for this — it’s completely illegal behavior under basic consumer protection laws.

  32. Nathanael says:

    Obama actually betrayed the American people as a Senator before the November 2008 election, when he voted for the FISA Amendments Act (after promising to vote against it). This was the “Sure, NSA, keep spying on everyone for no reason and to hell with the 4th Amendment” law.

    He’s an oathbreaker who spits on the Constitution, but what else is new? So are almost every elected official in the Republican Party.

  33. BeccaM says:

    That’s not what I meant. The self-funded plan itself is non-profit. However, the reason companies choose that route is because it is a more profitable choice than buying group insurance.

  34. BloggerDave says:

    All self-funded plans must be non-profit per Taft-Hartley so it isn’t “more profitable” for corporations any more than it is for Unions.

  35. karmanot says:

    “—-maybe improvements and eventually moving to something better are possible.” I sure hope so emjayay.

  36. emjayay says:

    Yes, they are no doubt cost effective parts of making higher profits for shareholders and enabling top executives to make more millions or they wouldn’t exist.

  37. emjayay says:

    I shouldn’t have said “legitimately”. But the super compromised Rube Goldbergian ACA barely passed. I think it was conventional wisdom at least that thought going farther wouldn’t. Besides the propaganda on the outside there are of course bribes/lobbying on the inside.

  38. ComradeRutherford says:

    “a “betrayal” of promises”

    Obama is a Moderate Republican pretending to be a Democrat: OF COURSE he is going to betray you! I knew he would betray the Democratic Voter before he even clinched the nomination!

  39. karmanot says:

    It’s even worse in our county IHSS SEIU union workers were are on a lottery system to get health care. It could take as long as two-three years for health care workers to get covered.

  40. Silver_Witch says:

    Insurance that many of us have to pay for, and if this article is true at the cost of insurance through our employers. I don’t understand the complication words in this – and I am no expert AT ALL. I do tend to assume that all employers will eventually stop providing healthcare – I think that is what the law really seeks…and we will all be in the exchange….

  41. Bill_Perdue says:

    Obama and Congress were convinced by bribes. Obama took about $20 million in bribes and had a couple of dozen secret meetings with the owners of HMOs and Big Pharma and then he scuttled single payer. “The new figure, obtained by Raw Story through an independent custom research request performed by the Center for Responsive Politics — a nonprofit, nonpartisan group that tracks money in politics — is the most comprehensive breakdown yet available of healthcare industry contributions to Obama during the 2008 election cycle. Currently, the Center’s website shows that Obama received $19,462,986 from the health sector, which includes health professionals ($11.7m), health services/HMOs ($1.4m), hospitals/nursing homes ($3.3m) and pharmaceuticals/health products ($2.1m).” http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2010/01/12/obama-received-20-million-healthcare-industry-money-2008/

    Congressional leaders got millions more in bribes. Congressional Democrats and Republicans were just as culpable as Obama. Open Secrets March 26, 2009 “health insurance companies’ PACs and employees have given 25 members of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation $3.3 million in campaign contributions since the 1990 election cycle, with 53 percent of that going to Democrats…
    At the top of that list is committee member Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), who has collected $680,200 over time for his candidate committee and leadership PAC from the companies. But the industry under scrutiny has also helped pay for the campaigns of committee chair Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), who has collected $141,000, while ranking member Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) has brought in $119,700. Blue Cross/Blue Shield has the strongest financial tie to senators currently on the committee, giving $505,700 total, followed by AFLAC, which has donated $337,250 since 1989.”
    Their bribes were so widespread that Kucinich, the darling of the liberals who now works for Fox voted for the sell out.

  42. Bill_Perdue says:

    That PR campaign came from the WH and the Obama regime after it took bribes from and sold out to the insurance companies and big pharma.

    It was a scam on the scale of Bush’s tax relief for the rich, TARP and the other gifts given by Bush and OBama to the banksters which by now amount to well over $7.7 trillion dollars.

    Here’s why Obama did it. “Insurance Companies and Pharmaceutical giants saw their stocks GO UP after ACA was passed. What more do you need to know? Health insurance stocks have surged. The five major health insurance companies — WellPoint, UnitedHealth Group, Aetna, Cigna and Humana — have increased more than 30% in 2013. … In 2013 the value of the S& P health insurance index has gained 43%. Thats more than double the gains made in the broad stock market index, the S & P 500. The shares of CIGNA are up 63%, Wellpoint 47% and United Healthcare 28% as of October 2013.

    Insurance companies get rich, Obama will get rich of speakers fees from them them after he leaves office and we screwed, and not in the good way.

  43. Bill_Perdue says:

    Exactly, nicho, and poor insurance at high costs.

    The out-of-pocket costs for people with diseases requiring ongoing treatment “could still be so high they’ll have trouble staying out of debt,” The Associated Press reports. Such costs include a health plan’s annual deductible—the amount of money a person must shell out before the insurance company begins to pay a claim—as well as co-payments and “cost-sharing.” http://www.truthdig.com/eartotheground/item/obamacare_will_leave_some_underinsured_20140104

    And the NY Times reports that “On Health Exchanges, Premiums May Be Low, but Other Costs Can Be High – Deductibles and other out-of-pocket costs on plans bought through the government are much higher than the typical employer-sponsored policy. “ NY Times 12 09 2013

  44. Bill_Perdue says:

    The unions are right. Obama/Romenycare is being used to undercut union health plans and companies are chomping at the bit to force union workers into Romney/Obamacare which costs them much less and offers far worse health care form the kind of for-profit that the Lap
    Dog in Chief prefers, at least for us.

    Another, far more important and explosive battle between unions/workers and the Obama regime is heating up. It’s centered around the minimum wage. Republicans don’t want to increase it and the Democrats mean-spirited and grotesque proposal is to increase it to $10.10. Around the country socialists and unions are fighting, and sometimes winning, battles to increase it to $15.00 an hour or in the case of WalMart workers to a minimum of $25.000.00 a year. That battle will revitalize the union movement and lead to changes on a scale reminiscent of the great union upsurges of the 1930s and ’40s.

  45. BeccaM says:

    The difference is how and why the self-funded plans exist at all.

    Corporations created self-funded insurance because they found it more profitable to do so..

    Unions created their own self-funded plans because that was the only way they could get coverage for their members, especially in the last two decades. Only by assuming a significant part of the risk could they get coverage at all.

    ACA should treat those two arrangements differently, in that one was chosen for profit and the other out of necessity — but the law doesn’t.

  46. BeccaM says:

    And a PR campaign that quite deliberately worked to confuse the two concepts in the minds of the public.

  47. karmanot says:

    “But they were legitimately convinced a single payer plan was an impossible leap—” I don’t believe that. It was a political betrayal from the get go and insurance lobbyist Max Baucus was Obama’s point man from the start.

  48. perljammer says:

    I’m not seeing a difference between the way ACA treats self-funded union plans and the way it treats self-funded employer plans. Can someone fill me in on what I’m missing here?

  49. nicho says:

    What you don’t mention — and what many people are unaware of — are the corporations that work in the shadows of the system and suck billions of dollars out of it. These corporation are invisible to you. They do not provide patient care and they do not provide payments. They are in some hazy area in between. One such company, which from what I could gather, sends messages from one insurance company to another, was recently sold for $4.3 billion. That pretty much tells you their revenues are pretty freaking high. That’s what causes the high cost of healthcare, not the Xray you had for your aches and pains. The existence of these companies is due to the multi-payer, multi-player system we have.

  50. emjayay says:

    Wasn’t it partly that after Big Pharma or whoever it was sank Hillarycare with the Harry and Louise commercials the White House felt it was necessary to kiss their ass all the way this time? I’m sure they realized they were up against entrenched interests of all kinds who had unlimited funding to propagandize as much as they wanted to.

    Not saying they made the right choice, but I think that’s the choice they made.

  51. nicho says:

    We asked for healthcare — we got insurance.

  52. cole3244 says:

    obama is just doing what other dems and their friends on the right have been doing destroying union representation in america, they are cons is dem clothing killing the middle class one step at a time but with a smile and and a handshake.

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