AFL-CIO: Obamacare implementation "highly disruptive"

Last Updated Sep 12, 2013 12:15 PM EDT

As Republicans in Congress debate their strategy for obstructing the implementation of Obamacare, some of President Obama's closest allies are airing their grievances over the law's negative consequences.

At a convention in Los Angeles on Wednesday, the labor organization the AFL-CIO passed a resolution declaring that the Affordable Care Act will drive up costs of union-sponsored health plans to the point that workers and employers are forced to abandon them.

While the resolution is strongly worded -- it calls implementation of Obamacare "highly disruptive" to union health care plans -- some unions wanted to take the resolution even further. A draft originally offered by Sean McGarvey, head of the AFL-CIO's Building and Construction Trades Department, said the AFL-CIO could no longer support the health care law and called for its repeal unless changes were made to protect union multi-employer plans.

As it was passed, the resolution claims the new law will increase costs for health plans that are jointly administered by unions and smaller employers in the construction, retail and transportation industries. That could encourage employers to hire fewer union workers or abandon the health plans altogether and force union members to seek lower quality coverage on the new health exchanges.

Union officials are seeking rule changes that would make their low-income workers eligible for the same types of federal subsidies they could get in the exchanges. They have also suggested rules that would treat their multi-employer plans as qualified exchange plans under the new law.

But the Congressional Research Service issued a memo earlier this year finding that neither change is allowed through rulemaking. The AFL-CIO resolution calls for the law to be amended by Congress if new rules cannot satisfy their concerns.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka held meetings at the White House last month in which he and other union leaders pressed the administration to make changes. Trumka has said he is encouraged that the White House is listening, but that no firm proposals have been made.

Republicans have seized on the AFL-CIO's complaints to back up its argument for slowing down the law's implementation and ultimately repealing it. They've also argued, however, that labor shouldn't get special treatment from Washington.

"We know big labor is leaning on the president to let them rewrite the same law they helped ram through," Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said on the Senate floor Thursday. "And apparently he's listening to them. "What about everybody else that's not in big labor?"

The latest poll surveying public opinion about Obamacare, from CNN, shows that weeks before open enrollment begins for the new health care exchanges, just 51 percent of Americans favor all or most of the provisions in the law.

A labor official told The Associated Press that White House officials had been calling labor leaders for days to urge them not to voice their concerns in the form of a resolution. The official, who wasn't authorized to discuss the conversations publicly and requested anonymity, said many union leaders insisted that they wanted to highlight their concerns.

Asked about any efforts to discourage unions from passing the resolution, the White House said in a statement Wednesday night that officials "are in regular contact with a variety of stakeholders, including unions, as part of our efforts to ensure smooth implementation and to improve the law."

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