By Benjamin Yount | Illinois Watchdog
SPRINGFIELD — Illinois’ largest public employee union is no longer excited about the future of Obamacare.
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Wednesday let it slip that he plans to move retired city of Chicago workers from a city-funded
health care system to President Obama’s national health-care system.
“This uncertainty will cause anxiety and fear for tens of thousands of seniors who gave their working lives to public service,” Henry Bayer, American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees Council 31 executive director, told the Chicago Tribune on Wednesday.
“Our union will be working to get answers to our many questions … and to protect access to affordable health care for city retirees now and in the future,” Bayer added.
Uncertainty and anxiety. Not exactly the words national AFSCME President Lee Saunders used to describe Obamacare last year.
“We will work at the state level to ensure that as many Americans as possible will receive the coverage they deserve,” Saunders said in June. “States should take advantage of the incentives in Obamacare and move forward to implement this far-reaching reform.”
AFSCME spokesman Anders Lindall said the union is concerned about how Emamnuel is using Obamacare.
“The Affordable Care Act is meant to make health care more affordable and more accessible. It is not intended to relieve employers— the city of Chicago or anyone else — of their responsibility to their employees or retirees,” Lindall said.
Ben Domenech, a research fellow at the Heartland Institute, said Emanuel is simply following the union’s advice, and taking advantage of Obamacare.
“Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s decision to shift retirees from their existing systems and onto Obamacare is a perfectly rational move, and an illustration of the decisions employers across the country will face in the coming years,” Domech said. “When it comes to employer dumping, Rahm Emanuel is just ahead of the curve.”
But Chicago’s Fraternal Order of Police did speak about its new concerns.
“There have been some positive things that have come out of Obamacare,” FOP vice president Bill Dougherty said as he pointed to expanded coverage for veterans. “But I don’t know what (the impact on police officers) will be.”
Dougherty said he won’t recommend Obamacare to rank-and-file officers in Chicago because no one knows whether Congress will tweak or repeal the new national health-care system.
“You can’t sell something to your members that you don’t even know about yourself,” Dougherty added.
The Emanuel administration said the city needs to move retired city workers to Obamacare to save money.
The Chicago Tribune reports Chicago spent $109 million on retiree health care for nearly 37,000 retired workers. By 2023, those numbers are expected to skyrocket to $541 million to provide care for 47,000 retirees and their families.
Emanuel has been quiet about a health-care plan, but his spokeswoman, Kathleen Strand, said in a statement that Chicago must act to control costs.
“The retirement healthcare system as it stands today is fiscally unsustainable, and we have a responsibility to ensure a secure financial
path for Chicago taxpayers,” Strand told the Tribune.
Police officers and firefighters who retire at 55 but are not yet eligible for Medicare would not be forced to move to Obamacare because of union contracts.
Workers who retired from the city of Chicago before 1989 would also be exempt from the move to Obamacare because of a legal settlement.
Dougherty expects the courts to weigh-in on Emanuel’s move, as well. Chicago and its retirees have been battling over the cost of retiree health-care since the 1980s.
Contact Benjamin Yount at [email protected] and find him on Twitter @ILWatchdog.