Affordable Care Act Renewal Time and the Puzzles for Workers

Citizen Wealth Financial Justice Health Care Labor Organizing

healthcareNew Orleans      The window has now opened for new signups under the Affordable Care Act.  This time around there won’t be any do-overs or make-ups, I’ll bet.  The Administration is already soft selling the numbers and predicting less than 10 million enrollees by the end of 2015, dampening expectations, either tactically or determinedly.

            This is also the renewal time for last year’s enrollees.  The earlier guidance from DC had been to just let your plan automatically renew, and you would be OK.  Now the new message is that everyone needs to start shopping on the marketplace website to try and find the best deal.  Generally the average of national insurance increases is relatively modest, but some renewals are as high as 20%.  Furthermore there are some new companies entering in different states and reducing prices to catch up with some market share, so there may be bargains if you take the time and go on.

            Cross your fingers and hope it all works this year!  There will be fewer navigators, so in many places you will be on your own.  Less money for the program this year, and what programs that were funded are beating the bush in the nooks and crannies of the country for new enrollees.

            Interviewing Kim Bobo, the executive director of the Chicago-based Interfaith Worker Center on Wade’s World on KABF/FM 88.3, she was recalling the old tradition in some large cities in the USA where churches and synagogue basements once housed worker centers that were designed to give people advice on these kinds of programs.  There’s not much of that now.  Kim’s network of 200 worker centers are focusing, appropriately on wage theft and basic rights, but this Obamacare is complicated and not easy to add to the menu.  Local 100 United Labor Unions is using our experience as navigators during the first year to establish Citizen Wealth Centers in Houston, Dallas, Baton Rouge, New Orleans, and Little Rock to support our members and their communities, but there’s no question the demand is going to outstrip capacity everywhere.

            And, confusion reigns.  There are some questions where no amount of research or direct calls to CMS and other experts have yet given us confident answers, so this is a call for a bit of crowdsourcing help.  The employers over 50 workers are coming under the mandate this year, and these high deductible plans are spreading, as are so-called “skinny” plans and other offerings that may not even meet the basic requirements, yet are likely to dominate lower waged work and the service sector.  There’s a penalty for employers of $2000 per worker if they offer nothing or an unqualified plan.  That much is clear.  There’s a higher penalty of $3000 per worker though if that worker goes to the marketplace, buys insurance there and gets a subsidy.  At the same time corporate consultants are telling bosses to audit their workforce to establish that they covered 70% of the workers and offered plans to everyone.  Makes it seem like they have to hit 70% or over, doesn’t it?  We need to know for certain.

Here is where we’ve suddenly gotten bogged down as we look at some crummy plans and whether or not there is an organizing campaign that might be possible by having workers desert the company’s bad plan for the marketplace where they might get both a better plan and a better deal.  We really need to know, yay or nay, whether or not workers might have some leverage in pushing for a better plan if they deserted the company’s pretend plan and triggered penalties individually?  And, if workers were able to organize more than 30% out of the plans, does the whole crummy corporate plan fall like the house of cards it is?

Like I said, it’s muy complicado, but vitally important and important now.  If anyone out there is confident they know the answer, let us know ASAP!