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IAFF Statement on the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare)

November 18, 2013 -- From the beginning of the national debate on healthcare reform, the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) has been very clear about our position -- do no harm to our members, the fire fighters and paramedics who protect communities throughout this nation daily and when disaster strikes.

And from the beginning of the debate over what should and shouldn’t be in the new healthcare law, we made our position very clear to our members, to other unions, and to members of Congress from both parties, and we made our position very clear to the Obama administration – over and over again. Watch video and read the September 10, 2009 IAFF statement on healthcare reform.

Ultimately, after just about every segment of the population, industry, corporation and interest group in this entire country weighed in on the bill, in March of 2010, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) -- also known as Obamacare -- was passed and signed into law.

The law is massive, cumbersome, complex and very confusing.

On one hand, it’s important to note that the law has some elements that are good and important for our members – your coverage can’t be dropped when you or a member of your family is sick; insurance must cover the full cost of preventive care, including annual physicals and immunizations; you can’t be denied coverage for pre-existing conditions; your children can stay on your plan until the age of 26, if needed; and there are no lifetime limits on benefits, among other things. These are all positive improvements for the healthcare of all consumers, including IAFF members and their families.

However, as everyone knows, there are also considerable, structural and long-term problems with Obamacare that extend well beyond the epic failure of the launch of the federal healthcare exchange web site.

Because the law was passed in such a dramatic, high profile and partisan fashion – supported by Democrats, while Republicans voiced loud opposition – there are a lot of half-truths, much misinformation and some outright lies being spouted by the talking heads on both sides of the issue.

To be clear and on the record once again, here’s where the IAFF stands on the elements of the ACA that we know will most affect our members’ healthcare today and going forward.

First, the promise President Obama made to the American people that, “if you like your healthcare you can keep it,” is not true.

In addition, while the president claimed during his press conference on November 14 that when he made that declaration he was thinking about the 95 percent of people who are covered by employer-based insurance plans (like most union members) and those with Medicare, the problem is that it is not true for those groups, either.

While many pundits claim that only those with substandard coverage are losing their health insurance, the truth is that certain provisions of the ACA will impact the plan design and, ultimately, the survival of high-quality employer sponsored and union negotiated plans – including many of our members’ plans.

Clearly, the new law will force changes in virtually every insurance plan on the market today – whether you hold an individual policy or are in a group plan like most IAFF members. Things are going to change. The only questions that remain to be answered fully are: How much change will there be? When will the changes occur? And how much will the changes hurt our members?

Because of the dramatic effects of the law, many IAFF members can expect insurance carriers to notify you of changes in your policies, including span of coverage, benefits offered within the plans and the amount of out-of-pocket costs you will pay. Some of these changes will have to be negotiated with your local, particularly in jurisdictions where healthcare is a subject of bargaining. But in many cases, members can just expect to be notified by insurance carriers or employers of increases in costs and changes to benefits.

The IAFF is working with a coalition in labor, with other stakeholders and with our friends in Congress to amend the law to eliminate or lessen the negative effects of the ACA on your healthcare plans.

The most dramatic and long range threat is the excise or “Cadillac” tax that will impose a 40 percent tax on high value plans beginning in 2018. This excise tax will apply to plans that charge premiums of $10,200 or more for single coverage or $27,500 or more for families. The tax will apply to amounts in excess of the thresholds. The tax will be imposed on the insurance companies that sell the plans, rather than on the plan participants. However, we expect that insurers will simply either stop offering so-called “Cadillac plans,” causing a reduction in benefits, or they will pass the cost on to our members.

The law also creates many problems for our self-funded/union-administered plans going forward, which will affect our members and their benefits. Your union remains at the forefront in trying to repeal or significantly change these portions of the law to protect your interests. Over the coming months and years, we will need to engage our grassroots network and communications efforts to win these battles.

The IAFF continues to believe that reform of the healthcare system in the United States is necessary to control the rising costs that plagued our members even prior to passage of the ACA. However, we promise to continue fighting on your behalf to fix the many problems that exist in the current law.

Over the coming weeks and months, the IAFF will be providing extensive communication, reference materials, tools and support to our affiliates and members, explaining in detail the provisions of the new law and help you develop and implement strategies for dealing with the ACA in bargaining or when talking with local decision makers, because there are many ways we can work to mitigate the negative effects that the new law will bring.

Stay tuned and watch your email for future updates.


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