By D. Taylor
Once again, at a White House press briefing, Jay Carney was asked about the serious problems many unions, including mine, have with Obamacare. He was questioned about a UNITE HERE document laying out, again, our very real problems with the new law. Mr. Carney asserted, "We’ve addressed this issue," and promised to get more information for the reporter. The Obama administration has not addressed our issues (unless Carney means they’ve addressed our issues by not fixing them) and rather than wait for another White House non-response, let me explain the situation.
We understand that Obamacare is complicated. But, we want to have an honest discussion about the law’s problems and how it can be fixed so it meets its ultimate goal of providing insurance to American people. What I’ve learned is that no one in D.C. wants to have that conversation. Everyone is hunkered down for a purely political fight. Republicans have done everything they can to block, undermine and thwart Obamacare — and have destroyed any ability to have a constructive dialogue about the law and its problems.
Because of the political climate, I realize it is important to provide a few things you need know about my union: Unite Here has over 300,000 members. A majority of our members are Latino or African-American women. They do the tough jobs: clean toilets, prepare food and make beds. They work hard, but they don’t make a lot of money — they are the group that need the most help with any public policy that is supposed to support the working class.
And, UNITE HERE was the first union to endorse then Senator Obama for President and actively supported the creation of health care for more people in this Country — which eventually became the Affordable Care Act.
Now, here are three important facts you need to know about the ACA, or Obamacare:
One: Most Americans don’t realize that the cornerstone of Obamacare is to transfer over $1 trillion – yes, $1 trillion in just the next few years — from U.S. taxpayers directly to support the for profit health insurance industry (the same industry that was supposed to be reformed). It is the largest transfer of wealth to one industry in history. And the way it is structured, the entire system limits competition and pushes everyone to use private health insurance in the exchanges that only insurance companies can participate in.
Two: As a result of this transfer of wealth to prop up a small monopoly of private health insurers, competition by not for-profit plans like ours will wither and die. And the structure of our plans will be impossible to recreate — so it is the loss of an entire sector of health care coverage. So while Obamacare has helped many uninsured people, the President and Congress have broken their promise to our 300,000 members and to over 20 million Americans who will not be able to keep the not for profit health plans they have now, and Obama said we could keep.
Three: Congress and the President have it in their power to fix this problem. The President has said he will use the "pen and phone" to act when Congress won’t. Well, he has already used that pen to give Congressional staff an exemption from Obamacare. He has used a pen to give major corporations an exemption from paying a fine. He has used his pen to exempt employers with 51 to 100 employees from the law. And, he has used his pen to allow corporate executives to keep their gold-plated plans while pushing many other employees onto part-time work. All we ask is to keep what we have — nothing more, nothing less.
As progressives, we cannot simply look the other way and pretend everyone makes out just fine with Obamacare. That just isn’t the truth and the debate just isn’t honest. It is disheartening that here in Washington so little attention is given the actual impact — the expense to my members who don’t have the special interest clout of corporate executives or congressional staffers. They just make beds and clean toilets for a living. And their health plans are their lifeline.
A promise was made and a promise has been broken. And it has been broken to the very people Obamacare should be helping. The people that asked for our help to support them and their cause now need to fix the devastating consequences of their actions. It is quite simple.
It is too simple for Washington. We have asked for solutions in a number of ways. The Obama administration, in response, has not been honest. It would be a good first step for Mr. Carney to provide real answers to the questions that have been raised about Obamacare’s impact on labor unions. Starting this one: Why has the Obama administration done nothing to keep the President’s promise to over 20 million people who belong to not for-profit health plans? We’d also like to know why administration officials keep saying that our plans can be offered on the exchanges. That’s not true and they know it. But, we’re waiting for them to explain how. They have not, because they cannot.
We must have an honest debate here. We should embrace what works about Obamacare and fight to keep it. And, we should have the honesty to admit those elements that aren’t working and fix them. Fix them all. I can’t sit and watch what millions of people have fought for go down the drain when there is no reason to harm them.