labor Unions sitting out ACA enrollment
President Barack Obama’s loyal allies in the labor movement aren’t jumping to help the administration in the public battle over the problematic Obamacare website.
Put off by new reinsurance fees on group health care plans that affect union members, Big Labor is largely sitting out the effort to enroll people for health care coverage or make the White House’s public case that the mangled rollout of HealthCare.gov doesn’t mean the entire Affordable Care Act is flawed.
The AFL-CIO isn’t lifting a finger to help the White House — it remains in negotiations at the White House and on Capitol Hill to change elements of the law it finds objectionable to workers. Those talks were put on hold earlier this month during the government shutdown — a far larger concern for the federal government employee unions — and have begun to restart only in recent days, according to officials from multiple unions.
Major public-sector unions also aren’t fired up to help the White House with a law that won’t affect the vast majority of their members. Nor are they ready to register people who aren’t union workers for a benefit they won’t receive themselves.
“I think we want to be helpful to make sure that this program gets up and running and goes where it needs to go in the general sense of being in favor of affordable health insurance,” said Beth Moten, legislative and political director of the American Federation of Government Employees. “But frankly, we have our hands full in everything else, and we don’t have [the] luxury of getting involved.”
One example of a sympathetic union not leaping to help Obamcare is the American Federation of Teachers. The nation’s largest teachers union has by its own count conducted 50 to 100 presentations for its own members on Obamacare but none for outsiders.
That could change when and if the administration fixes the balky website that has made it impossible for some people to register for health insurance, an AFT official said, but there’s not much for the teachers to do until then.
And even then, the AFT is concerned that part-time and adjunct teachers may lose out if their employers bump them below 30 hours a week to avoid having to offer them health insurance under the new law.
“It’s our hope that once HealthCare.gov gets fixed we’re going to get information out to our locals, and our hope is that our locals will engage with their community partners to get their people enrolled,” the AFT official said.
But until the administration fixes its website, the AFT has no plans to help.
“It’s frustrating for everybody,” the official said. “We want it to work; we think that the plan can work; and we do think that there is a pent-up demand for good health care insurance, but until everything is working, we can’t prove it.”
While Big Labor sits out the Obamacare fight, a constellation of Obamacare-friendly organizations, including the president’s political arm, Organizing for Action, have held hundreds of events trying to promote the health care law.
Navigators have spread out across the country trying to register the uninsured, and administration allies are working to parrot the Obama line that Obamacare is more than a dysfunctional website.
An outlier among unions is SEIU, which is “definitely all out there in a big way” to support and publicize benefits of the health care law, spokeswoman Diane Minor said.
The union’s outreach could create a group of people who benefit from the Affordable Care Act to boost its membership numbers, top SEIU officials said privately. SEIU, by this measure, would create a group of Obamacare enrollees — fast-food workers, as one example — who have a good impression of SEIU as a champion of health care for all people and more likely to organize new SEIU chapters.
Minor said SEIU’s aims are only to extend Obamacare benefits to more Americans, regardless of their membership in the union.
The union, which represents service industry workers, is pitching journalists stories about existing health care inequalities and Obamacare successes.
“We’re the nation’s largest health care union,” Minor said. “We’re not going to stand by and allow those guys to attack the health care we won after all these years.”