WASHINGTON — It’s called the Affordable Care Act, but President Barack Obama’s health care law might turn out to be unaffordable for many low-wage workers, including employees at big chain restaurants, retail stores and hotels.
That might seem strange since the law requires medium-sized and large employers to offer “affordable” coverage or face fines.
But what’s reasonable? Because of a wrinkle in the law, companies can meet their legal obligations by offering policies that would be too expensive for many low-wage workers. For the employee, it’s like a mirage — attractive but out of reach.
The company can get off the hook, say corporate consultants and policy experts, but the employee could still face a federal requirement to get health insurance.
Many are expected to remain uninsured, possibly risking fines. That’s due to another provision: the law says workers with an offer of “affordable” workplace coverage aren’t entitled to new tax credits for private insurance, which could be a better deal for those on the lower rungs of the middle class.
Some supporters of the law are disappointed. It smacks of today’s Catch-22 insurance rules.
“Some people may not gain the benefit of affordable employer coverage,” acknowledged Ron Pollack, president of Families USA, a liberal advocacy group leading efforts to get uninsured people signed up for coverage next year.
“It is an imperfection in the new law,” Pollack added. “The new law is a big step in the right direction, but it is not perfect, and it will require future improvements.”
Andy Stern, former president of the Service Employees International Union, the 2-million-member service-sector labor union, called the provision “an avoidance opportunity” for big business. SEIU provided grass-roots support during Obama’s long struggle to push the bill through Congress.