Martha Coakley is the union candidate in the Massachusetts Senate special election against Scott Brown. During the primaries, SEIU spent $214,000 on advertising in support of Coakley, and is expected to throw more money into the race in the final two weeks. SEIU is organizing a big union turnout which is critical to Coakley’s institutional advantage over Brown.

We know that the union officials support Coakley, but will the union members?

Not if they realize that Coakley’s support for the Senate health care bill will devastate the union health insurance plans and lead to decreased coverage and/or lower wages for union members. Here is a good Q&A; as to how the tax would affect union members, from the SEIU’s own website:

Who pays the tax?

The health insurance plan or plan administrator (in the case of a self-insured plan) would be liable for the tax. This could mean your insurance company, or if like many public employees you have a plan administrator, or like some SEIU members your union health and welfare fund, would pay the tax.

Why should I worry then?

Because we expect many health plans will either pass the tax on to you, or your employer will try to cut your benefits if they are larger than the
dollar limits for the tax.

How would the tax be applied?

The tax would be paid beginning in 2013 on 40% of the amount by which health plan’s premiums exceeded a dollar cost. Currently, the Senate bill would begin taxing your health care benefits if they cost more than $8,500 for individual or $23,000 for family coverage in that year.

The SEIU Q&A; goes on to explain that the tax will hit union members particularly hard in the “17 highest cost states” which includes Massachusetts. SEIU then sums up:

Why is the Senate considering this tax?

Some Senators think this tax will lead to more cost conscious insurance plan selection and motivate employers and workers to shop harder for more cost effective coverage. As we know, a more cost-conscious health plan may just be one with higher deductibles and other out-of-pocket costs. Instead of ensuring that insurance companies are held accountable in keeping costs down, this tax puts the cost-cutting burden on middle-class Americans and working families.

Yes, indeed, as SEIU points out, “some Senators” do not understand how this tax will hit the middle class. And also one senatorial candidate, Martha Coakley, who has stated that she will vote for the Senate bill.

The Communications Workers of America union has put together a list of 18 negative effects of the tax. Here is one effect which goes against Obama’s promise that people with good health plans will keep them:

The excise tax will not let many workers keep the good health plan they have now. To avoid the tax, affected health plans will significantly reduce benefits and increase cost-sharing (deductibles and co-pays) in order to get premiums below the thresholds at which the tax applies. These cuts will be dramatically larger in the second decade as the difference between health plan inflation and the rate at which the thresholds increase grows exponentially.

Here is another description of how this tax will affect the middle class, from liberal NY Times columnist Bob Herbert:

There is a middle-class tax time bomb ticking in the Senate’s version of President Obama’s effort to reform health care.

The bill that passed the Senate with such fanfare on Christmas Eve would impose a confiscatory 40 percent excise tax on so-called Cadillac health plans, which are popularly viewed as over-the-top plans held only by the very wealthy. In fact, it’s a tax that in a few years will hammer millions of middle-class policyholders, forcing them to scale back their access to medical care.

This tax, which affects union members more so than most people, will be in the final bill, as President Obama is insisting on it:

President Obama met with House Speaker Pelosi, House Majority Leader Hoyer, Senate Majority Leader Reid and Sen. Durbin last night and told them that he wants a final bill that includes a tax on Cadillac insurance plans and an independent Medicare commission.

I understand why union leaders would support Coakley – it is a matter of raw political power, even if Coakley will be the 60th vote to damage union workers’ health plans.

But why would union members support Coakley considering that she has announced her support for this tax?

Are union members really going to walk the plank for Coakley on January 19, when they enter the privacy of the voting booth?

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For my complete coverage of the Brown v. Coakley MA Senate Race, click here

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