SEIU Challenges Obama on LieberCare’s Excise Tax, Cost Controls, Employer Mandate

Obama SEIU

Photo via SEIU on Flickr

SEIU President Andy Stern wrote an open letter to the 2.2 million members of the service employees’ union, saying that LieberCare as it stands is not real health insurance reform and calling on Obama to improve the bill.  They’re not close to “kill the bill,” and instead hold out hope something can be salvaged.

But at the very moment that we saw real and meaningful changes within our grasp, one Senator came forward to say “no we can’t.” He can’t let the Senate have an up-or-down vote on health insurance reform.

And the result of this Senator saying “we can’t?” The public option is declared impossible. Americans cannot purchase Medicare at an earlier age. The health insurance reform effort we have needed for a century is at risk. […]

Our challenge to you, to the President, to the Senate and to the House of Representatives is to fight. Now, more than ever, all of us must stand up, remember what health insurance reform is all about, and fight like hell to deliver real and meaningful reform to the American people.

Stern specifically calls out the cost of care, the excise tax, and the lack of an employer mandate in the bill.

And while it is not entirely clear what the Senate bill will look like, it is becoming clearer that:

  • For many people, care will still be too expensive to afford.
  • Some of you would face an additional burden because your health insurance benefits would be taxed.
  • And the best way we saw possible to hold insurance companies accountable was no longer an option.

We know we will fight. We will continue to fight for everything we know is important. We will fight to make care affordable. We will fight for real health insurance reforms. We will fight for employers to provide their employees with coverage. And, we will fight to pay for all of it responsibly without a tax on your benefits.

David Dayen at the FDL News Desks notes that the first provision is particularly important:

The first point is really key. Health reform is starting to look like a way to make coverage attractive to those least likely to use it, while making those most likely to use insurance – such as older customers, who would have to pay rates four times what the young pay, with no sense of where that age-banding begins; or those with pre-existing conditions, who would get charged 50% more – unable to afford it. AsJon Walker put it, “This sounds like a recipe to price out the old (nonprofitable) and force only the young (profitable) to buy insurance.”

As for action, it appears SEIU’s efforts to improve the bill will continue with its DC lobbying and state field campaign in place for almost a year now.  The internal-DC message of SEIU publicly challenging Obama to improve the bill is an important dynamic.  Again, Dayen:

This is one of the first times that any union has publicly called on President Obama to actually use his power as President. It’s significant, in that context.

Indeed, that is a big part of this message from SEIU.  The test will be if it’s enough to jar Obama about the direction of the bill and make significant improvements, or if bill is changed just enough for the union to give its support.

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